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City of Muscatine Communication Blog

Hello and welcome to our blog. As the Communication Manager for the City of Muscatine, Iowa, I know the importance of communicating with residents and providing them with an understanding of the different functions of the City, why these functions are important to our residents, and what the City is doing for the future of our community.

Many times the story of the various activities, accomplishments, and happenings within the City are not told and we want to make sure that the people behind these activities, accomplishments, and happenings are duly recognized. We also want to explain our vision of the future for the City of Muscatine, something that we take great pride in.

Please check back in periodically to see updates on what's going on here in Muscatine! Please feel free to leave comments on individual postings--the comments will not be displayed here, but they will be emailed to me so that I can collect your thoughts and make adjustments based on the feedback and suggestions. Moderated comments are an option as we progress. Thanks for reading and I hope you find this to be an effective tool!

Feb 16

The pothole war ... a never ending battle waged in the streets of Muscatine

Posted on February 16, 2019 at 7:17 AM by Kevin Jenison

021419 Cold patching potholes, cracks on Grandview Avenue 03

It is a never ending battle in the war between city streets and winter weather. It is a battle for drivers as they face the many challenges of winter driving, and a battle for the work crews of the Street Maintenance Division of Muscatine’s Department of Public Works who also have many challenges related to upkeep of the streets during winter travel.

Those sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes shallow, and sometimes deep potholes that somehow magically appear overnight to the detriment of the unaware motorist are a real concern to the City and to residents. The avalanche in the number of reported potholes is, at times, less than the number of actual potholes but the City does respond to each and every report and then some.

One key to successfully addressing this problem is the assistance from the public that the City receives. The City welcomes resident’s calls to the Department of Public Works (DPW) with information on the location of potholes throughout the community and this also helps City crews respond quicker to street needs. (See how to report a pothole below). Weather is a key to the severity and number of potholes, and is a determining factor of when City work crews are mobilized to fill the deformations in the pavement. The better the weather, the more potholes can be filled.

HOW POTHOLE FORMS

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, potholes are the holes in the roadway that can be various shapes and sizes caused by the expansion and contraction of water after it has entered into the subsurface under the pavement from a crack in the surface. When water freezes, it expands.

Think of when ice cubes are made. A tray full of water is put into the freezer when you take the tray out of the freezer later, you will notice the water has expanded.

This same effect happens when water gets into the subsurface under the pavement. If it has a chance to freeze, it will take up more space under the pavement, and then the pavement will expand, bend or crack, which weakens the material. Then when ice melts, the pavement contracts and it leaves gaps or voids in the subsurface under the pavement, where water can get in again. If the water freezes and thaws over and over, the pavement may get very weak. 

There is another thing that happens. As the weight of cars and trucks pass over the weak spot in the road, pieces of the roadway material weakened by the freeze-thaw effect get displaced or broken down from the weight, creating the pothole. 

What happens when salt is brought into the picture? Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When salt is used, it lowers the temperature that water will freeze, creating an artificial freeze-thaw cycle to occur. This happens more in the spring because of the melting that takes place and because the temperatures go between above freezing and below freezing very frequently and allows many freeze-thaw cycles to weaken the pavement.

COLD PATCH VS HOT MIX

Once a pothole develops, it needs to be patched or filled in. Two different types of repair methods are predominately used in this process – cold patch asphalt repair and hot mix asphalt repair. The City of Muscatine has also recently used full depth patching with concrete in larger damaged areas.

Cold patch asphalt repairs can be used to quickly fill in pot holes and is available throughout the year. While cold patch is the “quick fix” and used by the City to repair most cracks and smaller potholes, it does not properly seal a pothole and does not prevent the pothole from forming again.

Hot mix asphalt repair addresses the underlying problems that caused the pothole by excavating the area around the pothole, and then filling and sealing the area with hot asphalt. However, hot mix requires the asphalt to be heated (temperatures range from 300 to 350 degrees) at an asphalt mixing plant and then transported to and poured before the mixture cools. While this product is a flexible mix that is highly resistant to weather and able to repel water, asphalt mixing plants usually only operate mid-March to mid-November when temperatures are 40 degrees or above.

Colder temperatures and the unavailability of hot mix during the colder months into early spring results in cold patch being the best option for most repairs during this time period. As the weather permits, crews from the Department of Public Works have been out to fill as many holes as possible with the cold patch that does not have to be heated.

These repairs, however, cannot be made at all times during the winter months. Snow covered streets often hide the developing potholes and City crews may also have to wait for water from melting snow to drain away. The City employs a throw-and-roll pothole repair strategy in the early stages of their battle against potholes where the cracks and/or potholes are cleaned out of water and debris with high pressured air, cold patch is throw into the crack and/or pothole, and a large truck drives over the patched area. While not a permanent solution, the temporary repair does help smooth out the streets with the area identified for a potentially more long-term solution during the warmer months.

REPORTING A POTHOLE

To report a pothole in the City of Muscatine, call the Department of Public Works at (563) 263-8933. To ensure that the repairs you are requesting are handled in a timely and efficient manner, please having the following information available at the time of your call:

  • Your name (optional)
  • Your address and daytime phone number (It is important that you provide a contact number in the event more information is needed)
  • The location of the pothole, including the nearest cross street and/or address
  • A description of the problem (There are other types of road defects that may appear as a pothole, but may require more intensive repairs)
  • Any other pertinent information that may need to be relayed to the crews about the area or the problem.

After receiving the information, a member of the DPW Street Maintenance Division will visit the site to determine the size and priority of the problem area so that the needed repairs can be scheduled.

Residents may also visit the City of Muscatine web site (www.muscatineiowa.gov) and click on the “Let Us Know” link. This link will take you to our request tracker where you can scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “pothole”. You will have to sign in or create an account to use the feature.

Once created, however, you will be able to use several other features on the city web site including “Notify Me”, which provides opportunities to receive notifications from a number of city departments, “Community Voice”, which allows you to comment and make suggestions in a public discussion forum, “OpenGov”, the official transparency site for the City of Muscatine, and you can even pay your parking tickets at “Online Payments”.


Feb 16

Hubei Chime Bells, Peking Opera to perform in Muscatine February 14

Posted on February 16, 2019 at 7:10 AM by Kevin Jenison

Celebrate the Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, in the Muscatine Center for Performing Art at Central Middle School with performances by the China National Peking Opera Company, Troupe One, and the spectacular Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra.

This is a rare opportunity to experience and a celebration not to miss with a dazzling combination of vocal artistry, costumes, and acrobatics in three classic scenes to a program of works that honor centuries-old musical traditions performed on exact replicas of the ancient Imperial Bells of China.

The program is free and open to the public with no ticket required. The show begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, at Central Middle School, 901 Cedar Street, Muscatine.

This is the third stop for the orchestra who will perform in the Chicago Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, on Feb. 10 and in Orchestra Hall of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, on Feb. 12. The group will also perform in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Feb. 18.

Georgia Cassimatis, writing for What’s On Sydney, previewed the orchestra’s planned visit to Australia.

“Magical, mystical, spell-binding, romantic, hypnotizing and simply beautiful,” she wrote. “These are only a few words to describe the grand music, and cultural, historical richness of the internationally acclaimed Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra.

“Historically impressive, the Imperial Bells are the 433BC chime bells, which were unearthed in 1978 in the Zenghouyi Tomb in Hubei Province in China. There are 65 bells with weight up to five tonnes hanging on two sets of wood racks. Visually breathtaking the stage mirrors the Chinese palace symphony orchestra and the ancient Jingchu people’s artistic lifestyle, dating back 2400 years.

“Considered the eighth wonder of the world, the ancient instruments including harps, pipes, bamboo flutes, drums, banjo and ancient Bianzhong Bells are played by an orchestra of over 40 musicians who take you on a journey of famous Chinese music and sensational singing.

“As one is transported back to a time thousands of years ago via the melodious timbres, there awaits a surprise; a beautiful ode to Australia, where the chimes begin playing Waltzing Matilda; with big applause and not a dry eye in the house.”

Members of the orchestra will arrive in Muscatine Wednesday evening (Feb. 13) with a welcome dinner at China Garden Restaurant. Most of the performers will be staying at the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center but some will stay in the homes of Muscatine residents. Home stays has been one of the favorite parts of the performers’ visit to Muscatine and a tradition that continues this year.

Performance day (Thursday, Feb. 14) begins with a tour of Muscatine that includes stops at the Sino-U.S. Friendship House, Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine City Hall, Muscatine Community College, Weed Park, and the Muscatine riverfront. Lunch will be held at the Muscatine History & Industry Center before the performers being taken to Central Middle School for rehearsal and the performance that night.

Unlike years past, the performers will have an extra day in Muscatine before leaving for California. Following breakfast at the Merrill Hotel, performers will be able to spend Friday (Feb. 15) exploring downtown Muscatine, the riverfront, and doing some shopping. Friday afternoon will feature Chinese Cultural Day activities that will include the performers visiting with Muscatine students in various classrooms.

The Muscatine China Initiative Committee (MCIC) is coordinating the event and supported by the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago.

MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND PERFORMERS

The first half of the program features the Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra performing works that transport listeners to ancient China. In 1978, a set of 2,500-year-old bronze and stone chime bells were excavated from the tomb of a Chinese ruler from the Bronze Age in Hubei, China. Believed to be the earliest twelve-tone equal temperament instruments in the world, these chime bells create an authentic, melodious timbre and also are breathtaking to behold due to their grand scale and elaborate cast technique. Additionally, other traditional instruments are featured on the program, including the qing, a stone or jade chime; the xun, a vessel flute; and the se, a plucked zither.

The second half of the concert features Troupe One of the China National Beijing Opera Company presenting three scenes from the Peking opera repertoire that include instrumental music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. Dressed in traditional costumes with full makeup, celebrated performers Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu are featured on a program that includes scenes from three classic Peking operas: Divergence, Palace of Eternal Life, as well as Uproar in Heaven, a classic Chinese story that follows the adventures of the mischievous Monkey King who wreaks havoc in his rebellion against the Jade Emperor.

The Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra is a part of the Hubei Provincial Opera and Dance Drama Theatre, which is a leading performing arts organization that produces and performs traditional and folk opera, dance and music of the Hubei province. Committed to innovation in the arts, the theatre has won numerous awards including the first prize of the Excellent Performance Award of the first China Opera Festival, a Wenhua Award and Hubei Five-One Project Award. Through their international tours, the Hubei Chime Bells National Chinese Orchestra commits itself to cultural exchange and establishing connections between Chinese people and people from all over the world through visual and auditory performances.

Founded in 1955 as China’s premier Peking opera organization, the China National Beijing Opera Company is one of the national ensembles of performance arts directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, People’s Republic of China. The company includes acclaimed performers, playwrights, directors, composers and stage designers and has presented productions ranging over the wide diversity of Peking opera performance styles. The company’s Troupe One is its most esteemed, delivering the highest quality performances of traditional and contemporary repertoire. Masters of their generation, leading artist Yu Kuizhi and acclaimed director Li Shengsu have enhanced the artistic style of Troupe One, which also includes numerous performers who have won awards in national 


Feb 16

Budget Season ... anticipating funds and looking to the future

Posted on February 16, 2019 at 7:09 AM by Kevin Jenison

Nearly half of the funding for the City of Muscatine comes from property taxes (48 percent in Fiscal Year 2017-2018) but the fluctuations in state and federal funding sources and the highly competitive nature of seeking outside funding sources has placed even more emphasis on the use of property taxes as the major funding source for General Fund programs.

The City, through sound fiscal management, successful grant applications, contributions to programs, and outside funding sources, has been able to maintain the same tax rate ($15.67209 per $1,000 of valuation) for the past seven years while also improving the services offered to Muscatine citizens. In fact, the City tax rate has not been raised for the past 10 years.

But there is fear of the unknown when it comes to future funding opportunities The potential loss or reduction of back-fill payments from the state and the availability of grants and other outside funding sources could have a significant impact on what the FY 2019/2020 budget for the City of Muscatine is and how it will affect the City’s portion of the property tax rate.

Departmental budgets are prepared with an emphasis on meeting the needs of Muscatine citizens whether in infrastructure, housing, safety, recreation, or waste management, to name a few. Budget planning requires the departments to not only think short term (the requirements of the next fiscal year) but also long term (future goals and objectives). The question budget planners must ask is what needs must be met in the next fiscal year and what can be planned for and implemented in future fiscal years.

Those preparing the department budgets cannot live in the land where future money is guaranteed and their dreams, and the wishes of the residents, are but a yes vote away. Budget planners have to live in the land where there is an anticipation of the availability of funds but no guarantee.

City department heads, under the direction of the city administrator, began to collect information on department needs for FY2019-2020 at the end of October. Preliminary budgets were prepared during November departmental meetings and lobbied in front of the city administrator and finance director during December. While many good arguments were made for the preliminary budgets during these discussions, none escaped feedback needed for the next step … preparing the budget for presentation to the City Council.

One of the primary functions of the City Administrator is to weigh all of the departmental requests and then come up with something that works within the funding or proposed funding that exists. Fiscal authority, however, resides with the City Council who has the authority to allocate and appropriate of all funds. There is no guarantee that the department’s budget request will be approved without debate or without cuts, and, in fact, that debate on the needs of the department in relation to the needs of the citizens and availability of funds, is a vital part of the budget discussions by Council.

There are a myriad of issues and challenges associated with preparing a departmental budget, just as there are in combining those budget proposals into one comprehensive city budget that meets the needs of the citizens of Muscatine. It is no small feat especially when you consider future money is never guaranteed, just anticipated.

 

While local government cannot control what happens with the state legislature in Des Moines, local government can look ahead towards what they can do to ensure the expectations of its citizens are met. Long range plans that are geared toward increasing the population of residents, homes, and businesses have their base in these budgets. City departments, then, have to forecast what they can do to reach the long term goals while meeting the needs of citizens in the short term … and staying within the confines of the anticipated dollars that the City will receive in the coming fiscal year.

The presentations before the Muscatine City Council begins at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 24, 2019, when an overview of the proposed budget is presented. Over the course of the following two weeks, Council members will hear from the various departments and agencies as they present their FY2019-2020 budgets.

While the presentations are open to the public only the Council members are allowed to ask questions of the representatives. Public comment on the budget proposals will come during a public hearing tentatively scheduled for March 7, 2019. The budget presentations will be held in the lower level conference room at City Hall, 215 Sycamore. A complete schedule for the presentations is available on the city website at BUDGET PRESENTATIONS.

Each session has different departments presenting with citizens welcomed at all of the presentations. Public comment at this time is not part of the process but DO take notes because time for citizen input has been set aside during the Public Hearing that is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, March 1 (the actual date and time will be set by City Council at the conclusion of the department/agency presentations).

 

Throughout the budget process there are numerous opportunities to participate and engage with your City staff and Council members. Please stay tuned for periodic updates on the process, issues and challenges the City faces in putting together a budget for a full service city, and a budget that meets our community needs but is also responsible at the same time.

 

The City of Muscatine values constructive input and appreciates hearing your ideas. You can comment here on our blog, visit the Community Voice section of our web site, visit our social media sites at FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, or you can email us to stay connected.