Ottumwa City Council approves Bonita Avenue TIF developer agreement

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:24 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - After over two months of debate and controversy, Huegerich Construction finally has an answer for their proposal to bring three workforce apartments to Ottumwa. With a three to one vote, with one abstaining, the Ottumwa City Council approved the agreement between the City of Ottumwa and the developer to grant a TIF rebate to the property.

Before the vote, several members of the public spoke at a public hearing. Some were in favor of the plan, like Historic Preservation Commission chair Dennis Willhoit, who was impressed at the City’s willingness to change after the Council voted against the original plan. “You’ve shown us that you can go back to the drawing board and discuss a new plan and find compromise,” Willhoit said at the meeting.

However Willhoit was in the minority. Several residents near the property spoke, including Julia Blunt, who asked “if you moved to the Bonita Avenue area tomorrow, would you sit back and stay silent to all the things that have been mentioned?” Other residents mentioned concerns about sewers or much heavier road traffic on Bonita Avenue.

Wapello County Board Chair Jerry Parker returned to speak out against the project, pointing to the people congregated in the council chambers. “The people that showed up, that thought this was important, say don’t do this,” he said, pointing to the petition signed by over 700 Ottumwans opposing the proposal.

JBS Ottumwa recruited the developer and the general manager has given his full support to the plan. He’s said the company has dozens of openings, and few places to house newly recruited employees. “We still run into the same roadblock where they run out of time, they run out of patience,” he said at an October council meeting.

But the only council member to vote against the proposal, Matt Dalbey, said JBS needs to do more than invest in its employees, describing a system where the company would give funds for its employees to find housing better than an apartment. “I want something better for the people who will be living there,” Dalbey said, saying they deserve single-family homes instead of apartment units.

The other council members didn’t share his opinion. The biggest issue for Council Member Bob Meyers was just finding people a place to live. “We do not have adequate workforce housing,” Meyers said in response to Dalbey.

Community Development Director Zach Simonson agreed with Meyers, pointing to the various companies that are planned to come to Ottumwa within the next few years, like Maxx Spas or Harbor Freight tools. “We’re going to have to grow as a community to match those need. We don’t have enough people here on their own to fill them, and housing’s a part of that. [Bonita] housing is a part of that…specifically.”

The passed measure will give the developer a 50% property tax rebate for 20 years. Once the apartments are complete, the land will be valued at $8.2 million. That would bring taxing entities around $120,000 a year, around 400 times more than they currently get from the lot.


The Ottumwa Fire Department will be getting more staff soon. The council approved staffing for three more firefighters. This is after six firefighters were cut last year for the budgetary reasons.

Currently, overtime in the department is costing over $350,000 this year. The City’s Finance Director says hiring three firefighters will offset those costs. “It makes more sense financially for us to hire three firefighters than it does to continue to pay the overtime.”

Fire Chief Tony Miller says he’s also looking at applying for a federal grant which could bring even more staff to the Ottumwa fire stations. But it’s unlikely he’ll know the results of that grant until next fall. He told the council the department can’t wait that long. “We’re at the point now where we have to do something. We cannot sustain our guys working...56 hours a week followed with 40 hours of overtime.”


Three, not two, council members will be sworn in on January. The council appointed Russ Hull to fill Bob Meyer’s seat, who will retire at the end of 2021.

Russ Hull came fourth in November’s City / School election. He will join the council with Cara Galloway, Doug McAntire, and Mayor-Elect Rick Johnson in January,.

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