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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!

Oct 10

What happens when the Mississippi River floods

Posted on October 10, 2018 at 3:50 PM by Kevin Jenison

127  Pearl City Station 24.34

Muscatine has seen its fair share of floods over the years. Because our city is nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River, we are bound to see occasional high water. Many of you may remember the record floods of 1993 and 2008. Floods like those don't happen often, but when they do, we must have a plan in place to keep our community safe and secure.

We are reaching the end of the normal flood season for the Mississippi at this point in the year, but we still wanted to give our readers a brief overview of how the City responds to floods.

The City of Muscatine has an efficient plan in place to monitor river levels and then respond at the necessary flood stages. The following departments are directly involved in flood control: Public Works - Engineering and Street Maintenance Divisions, Water Pollution Control Plant and Sewer Maintenance Division, Parks and Recreation, Police Department, Fire Department, and Finance Department.

035 Clam man statue on riverfront 24.34

Here's a brief overview of what happens once the 16' Flood Level is met. These guidelines were created prior to the reconstruction and raising of Mississippi Drive but are guidelines still adhered to by the City of Muscatine.

  1. 16' is the Official Flood Level - It is monitored on the Muscatine gauge, which is located at the Municipal Power Plant, River Mile 453.0. Once the flood waters reach this level, City staff will monitor the weather and projections for river stages along with Mad Creek's potential flows.
  2. 17' Gauge -  Wait and watch. Water will encroach upon the walk area at Pearl City Station at 17.5'. Toe drain pumps will get ready to run when necessary.
  3. 18' to 19' Gauge - Once a prediction of 18' is determined, 2,000 sandbags are created, and preparations are made to phase all parking in the riverfront parking lot with detours are set up. At 18.2' water starts to back out of the storm inlet at Mississippi Drive and Walnut Street. By 19.2', two lanes of traffic are covered. At 19.5' water is across all four lanes of Mississippi Drive at Walnut and all of the riverfront parking lot is underwater. At 19.64' water is to the center line of Mississippi Drive at Mulberry. At 19.83' water is on top of the deck at Pearl City Station.
  4. At this point, local weather forecasts must be observed closely in order to predict Mad Creek flows. Necessary notifications must be made to the Railroad and businesses utilizing the railroad.
  5. Procedures are followed from 20' and up that include closing structures and the flood gates. Randy Howell, the Street Maintenance Supervisor, makes the call for when flood gates go down. During the next phases, levees are patrolled to watch for boils. Sandbags are added as necessary. Correct emergency maintenance procedures are followed in conjunction with the State of Iowa.

This is just a glimpse into what happens when flood levels reach a certain level and how the City of Muscatine responds to flood situations at the riverfront. The City has an extensive plan in place to respond to any flood situation that may arise.

Residents and visitors to Muscatine are reminded that if they encounter water over the roadway ... turn around and don't drown. Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm related hazard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. The next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is due to walking into or near flood waters.

People underestimate the force and power of water. Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream. Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn you the road is flooded. A mere 6 inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away a small car, while 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles. It is NEVER safe to drive or walk into flood waters.

The recommended flood procedures, as established in 2010, can be found HERE.

The current flood prediction hydrograph from the National Weather Service can be found HERE.

Jul 20

Rebranding and a turn for the better

Posted on July 20, 2018 at 9:12 AM by Kevin Jenison

Marketing Muscatine effort includes more than a new logo and tagline

MUSCATINE, Iowa – A new logo and a new tag line for Muscatine were revealed to the Muscatine City Council on Thursday (July 12), the first of several meetings with community members to showcase the logos’ design and meaning. The culmination of many years of work from leaders of several entities in Muscatine, the logo and tagline are part of a renewed effort to market Muscatine.

In fact, the inability to adequately market Muscatine was one of the key reasons that early discussions led to the formation of a leadership committee to study and develop a logo and tagline that would work for the entire community of Muscatine. The committee included members from the City of Muscatine, Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Muscatine Power & Water, Muscatine Community College, Muscatine Community School District, and UnityPoint-Trinity Muscatine.

From early on the commitment was to develop a logo and tagline that could be used by all, a commonality that demonstrates the commitment of the community to be the place where living, working, raising a family, and retiring all takes a turn for the better.

Working with Northstar Marketing, Inc, out of Nashville, Tenn., the committee coordinated research on the community of Muscatine, on consumer awareness and the perception of Muscatine, and on competition for regional tourism and economic development. Out of this research came a strategic DNA that would form the foundation for development of the logo design and the tagline.

That DNA:

“For those with global horizons who want to watch the sunset in the Midwest, Muscatine, an industrial power between Iowa City and the Quad Cities, is where the great bend of the Mississippi turns small town ingenuity into unbounded enterprise, so you can access the world stage or watch it flow by.”

Muscatine history was not forgotten in the development of the new logo and tagline, and was fundamental in the development of the DNA statement.

Watching the sunset is in reference to the Mark Twain’s (Samuel Clemens) often used quote on Muscatine sunsets (“And I remember Muscatine – still more pleasantly – for its summer sunsets. I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean that equaled them.”)

The phrases Industrial power along with turning small town ingenuity into unbounded enterprise are another historical reference that also reaches into the future. The lumber industry was the first enterprise that brought recognition to Muscatine in the mid-1860s. H.J. Heinz also brought recognition to Muscatine by building the companies first plant outside of Pittsburgh here in 1892 to take advantage of the fertile soil located in this area.

Of course, the early 20th century button industry that led to Muscatine becoming known as the “Pearl Button Capital of the World” was another chapter in the greatness of Muscatine.

During the last 100 years companies and corporations established in Muscatine have become recognized worldwide for their products and services and that trend continues today with new businesses and their products becoming recognized throughout the region, nation, and the world.

The final part of that DNA does look into the future and notes how Muscatine is the place where you can access the world stage or just watch the world flow by.

The rebranding is just one part of a long term commitment by various entities in this community to help Muscatine grow in population, in recreational and employment opportunities, and in housing and educational options.

The two-year project to reconstruct Mississippi Drive from Mad Creek to Broadway is part of that commitment by the City of Muscatine to enhance the infrastructure and create a sense of place for residents and visitors alike. The Grandview Avenue project in 2019 and 2020 will add another enhancement as will the proposed 2nd Street revitalization in 2020 or 2021.

This “turn for the better” will entrust to future generations a connection between the Mississippi River and Downtown Muscatine, an area filled with history and tradition and an area filled with endless possibilities for residents, businesses, and visitors. Those possibilities do not stop at Downtown Muscatine but extend to all corners of the community.

When the next phase of Riverside Park improvements is completed, Muscatine will have a recreational and entertainment venue second to none up or down the Mississippi River.

When Mississippi Drive is complete, the redefined traffic pattern enhanced for pedestrian traffic, landscaped medians, and wayfinding signs will allow for a greater connection and flow between the riverfront and the downtown area.

When the corridor from Mad Creek to the U.S. 61 bypass is complete, Muscatine will have a main artery that will have increased business and residential potential.

This is also part of the branding effort.

It was mentioned at the City Council presentation on July 12 that the rebranding did not take into consideration the history of Muscatine and that the tagline was vague, confusing, and could be viewed as saying that Muscatine was never great.

The opposite is more to the fact.

Muscatine was located on the bend of the Mississippi River for many reasons and just one could have been because this is where opportunity takes “a turn for the better”. Throughout the history of Muscatine (and Bloomington before that) this fact was proven. It is being proven today, and will be proven again in the future.

Learn more at: Branding - A Turn For The Better


May 03

Where does the ATE fine money go?

Posted on May 3, 2018 at 4:12 PM by Kevin Jenison

MUSCATINE, Iowa – The recent Iowa Supreme Court decision this past week stating that the Iowa Department of Transportation did not have authority over the use of Automatic Traffic Enforcement (ATE) systems renewed discussion on the amount of money received by Muscatine from the fines, what that money is used for, and how much of the total fine does not stay in Muscatine.

The ATE system in Muscatine consists of permanent fixtures at five intersections along with a mobile unit. The five intersections in Muscatine that have had the ATE system operating since April 2011 include Washington Street at Park Avenue (north and south approaches), Cleveland Street at Park Avenue (north and south approaches), Cedar Street at Houser Street (east and west approaches), University Drive at U.S. Highway 61 (westbound approach), and Mulberry Avenue at U.S. Highway 61 (westbound approach). There is also a mobile unit that has been in operation for the past several years and is parked at different locations throughout the city.

The University Drive camera was taken off-line in April 2017 after the Iowa Department of Transportation ordered the camera removed. That DOT order began the litigation that led to the Supreme Court ruling last week. No determination has been made as yet as to when that camera system will be placed on-line. The system at that intersection would have to be cleaned, calibrated, and inspected before being put back into service.

ATEs actually act as a force multiplier by improving public safety while allowing officers to respond to important calls within the community. The videos from these cameras have also been used to help criminal investigations as well as crash investigations that occur in or near the approaches. There have been at least two occasions where the ATE footage has been credited with helping to resolve local shootings.

The ATE system marked its seventh anniversary of its deployment in March 2018.

History of the ATE in Muscatine

The City of Muscatine began collecting accident data and conducting speed and red light violation surveys in 2009. Eight approaches at five intersections were determined to meet the criteria necessary for the deployment of ATE with the City of Muscatine awarding the contract for the ATE initiative to Gatso USA in 2010.

The ATE system is authorized by Title 7 (Vehicles and Traffic), Chapter 5 (Automated Traffic Enforcement) of the City Code of Muscatine. The ordinance was approved by the Muscatine City Council in September 2010.

Prior to the implementation of the ATE equipment, public hearings and meetings were held during City Council meetings for at least a year, posters were displayed at various locations across the city, informational pamphlets were distributed to the public, and information was disseminated by email and posted on the internet.

The ATE equipment was built and installed by Gatso USA at NO COST to the City of Muscatine.

The City and Gatso USA submitted plans for the ATE systems at the five intersections to the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and work closely with the DOT during the entire construction process to ensure the systems and sign placement met all DOT specifications at the time. The City went a further step and added “traffic laws photo enforced” signs on every corporate limit sign posts on roadways entering Muscatine.

According to the contract, GATSO USA receives $27 of every PAID fine to offset capital costs as well as their operating costs to review and forward the possible violations to the Police Department, sending first and second notices, collecting fines, and the maintenance of that equipment. (The amount is 36 percent of the amount of fines collected).

Tickets are reviewed and approved by a Muscatine Police Officer who signs off on the citation letter before the citation is issued. In Muscatine, a ticket is not issued unless the driver is going 11 mph over the stated speed limit. Tickets are issued for drivers going six mph or over in school zones and construction zones. Each citation has the appeals process listed on the form but that process must be started within 30 days after the citation is issued.

Where does the money from the fines go?

The fines are collected by Gatso USA and transferred to the City of Muscatine. Gatso USA bills the City of Muscatine monthly ($27 for each PAID citation) which are among the bills for approval presented to the City Council at each regular meeting. For Fiscal Year 2016-2017, the last full year of data, the city received $723,454.00 from Gatso USA in fines collected while another $214,303.26 was received from the cities collection agency.

Of the total revenue received, $285.741 was paid to Gatso USA over the course of the fiscal year while $652,016.26 was placed in the Police Department General Fund or 69.5 percent of the total revenue from the fines. That percentage was 68.1 percent for 2015-2016, 71.2 percent for 2014-2015, 67.3 percent for 2013-2014, 67.2 percent of 2012-2013, and 67.3 percent for 2011-2012.

In other words, nearly $7 of every $10 received stays in Muscatine and is used by the Muscatine Police Department or by other departments, as needed, for public safety.

So what’s the future of the ATE system?

The Iowa legislature has two pieces of legislation being debated that could affect the future of ATE’s in Iowa. The House bill would permit ATE cameras under certain conditions and provide regulations for the use of these ATE systems. The regulations closely follow what the City of Muscatine has had in place since 2011. The Senate bill would eliminate the use of ATE cameras as a means to catch those breaking the law.

The Supreme Court ruling does allow, at least until the state legislature decides on a course of action, the City of Muscatine to bring the camera at University Drive and U.S. Highway 61 back online after a year’s absence. City officials are assessing their options and determining a timeline for returning that camera to full operation but it will be at least two months before the camera would be used to issue citations for red light running and/or speeding.

By that time the city will probably know which way, if any, the state legislature will go.

What would the loss of the fine revenue mean for Muscatine?

The Muscatine Police Department budget is funded, in part, by the fines received from the ATE system. These funds enabled Muscatine to retain one Street Crimes unit (SCU) officer and one School Resource Officer (SRO) when grant funding for those positions ended. ATE funds were also used to add four firefighter positions since the 2012-2013 fiscal year. One fire engine and one ambulance were also acquired without having to incur additional debt.

The loss of the ATE revenue in conjunction with the possible loss of “backfill” revenue from the State of Iowa (which is also being discussed this session) will have serious effects not only in public safety but across all City of Muscatine departments.

It is still too early to answer the “what if” questions.

What is known is that local jurisdiction of ATE cameras has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court.

And, as City Administrator Gregg Mandsager has stated in discussions with local citizens and state representatives concerning ATEs … if you don’t want to pay the fine, don’t break the law.

Police ATE Ticket Collection Summary

Constitutionality of ATE Cameras