Monthly news and announcements for residents of Story City, Iowa

Story City Briefing

City to Update Comprehensive Plan

 
The City’s current Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1997, no longer represents the reality of today’s Story City. The new plan will guide the growth, development, and redevelopment of Story City for the next 15 to 20 years.
 
What is a Comprehensive Development Plan
A comprehensive development plan is a community’s vision of its future; it is also known as a master plan or land use plan. It guides community leaders and legally backs up land use decisions. It guides the physical development of the land, as well as residential, commercial, and industrial zones. The plan is used to guide decision making by the Mayor & City Council, Planning & Zoning Commission, other advisory boards, and City staff. A comprehensive plan establishes goals and objectives relating to economic development, housing, public facilities, recreation, and other planning elements that the community may undertake. Existing and future land uses of a city are a critical component of a comprehensive plan.
 
Why Do We Need to Update the Plan?
A comprehensive development plan is a legal requirement to justify public and private land development and zoning decisions made by the City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission. It also provides support for the expenditure of funds for infrastructure and public facilities; and it presents methods to address community issues of concern.
 
Creating a comprehensive plan for the City is like drawing a road map to where the City wants to go over the next 15 to 20 years. One might think that drawing such a map to the future would be easy enough. Surely everyone agrees that we all want the City to prosper, grow, and develop; not stagnate and decline. We want thriving neighborhoods, healthy businesses and industries providing a solid tax base and jobs for people; a good, sound educational system; adequate streets and other infrastructure; beautiful parks and green spaces and recreation; and all the other things that go into making a community healthy and dynamic.
 
But, how do we do all this things? Because there is nothing that creates more turmoil that when someone proposes to build something in peoples’ backyard. A good comprehensive development plan will help minimize those surprises. So what this comprehensive plan may lack in excitement may be made up for in significance in the years to come.
 
Story City is fortunate to have someone within our community who is obtaining their graduate degree at Iowa State University in Community and Regional Planning. Angela Snyder has agreed to work with us over the next year on updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan and will work with Susan Bradbury a professor in Community and Regional Planning at Iowa State. 

Capital Improvement Priorities and Financial Forecast Plan


The Mayor and City Council recently reviewed and adopted the “Capital Improvement Priorities and Financial Forecast” for the City.  The purpose in establishing Capital Improvement Priorities is to identify and determine capital improvement projects and equipment replacement schedules through Fiscal Year 2020-21. Capital improvements usually refers to major physical improvements such as street paving, water and wastewater improvements, parks, other facilities, and equipment purchases. The financial forecast helps to provide a framework for maintaining and improving the city’s overall financial management and decision-making. The financial forecast gives us a better understanding of the city’s current financial condition and identify existing and emerging financial problems.  Although the city is in a good financial condition at the present time, we must continuously monitor changes and anticipate future problems.

A Special Thank You

To John Abrams who recently stepped down after serving for many years as Chair of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission. John’s commitment to Story City coupled with his knowledge and experience was instrumental in helping to guide the growth and development of Story City. Thank You John!

What will small towns in Iowa
be like in 2024?


Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences recently completed a “Profile of Iowa Small Towns.” They surveyed 99 towns, one in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, with a population between 500 and 10,000. This survey has taken place in 1994, 2004, and 2014 and tells us a great deal of residents' thoughts, opinions, and feelings covering a wide range of areas from Government and Non-government Services to Community Amenities and to our Social Environment and Community Involvement over this 20 year time period.
 
There are a number of questions asked, but I thought I’d share with you some of the questions and the ratings that came from these 99 cities with some of my thoughts on how Story City might compare.
 
Why Does Someone Want to Live in a Small Town
The two primary reasons for living in a small town are “having relatives or in-laws in town” and “grew up in town.”  A Pew Foundation study in 2009 found that 30% of Americans would prefer to live in a small town. The third reason (36%) of why a person lives in a small town is “proximity to employment.” Simple enough, a person will move to a small town if they have employment.
 
Story City has done a great job creating economic opportunities within our community. Creating economic opportunity within Story City is important, but supporting economic efforts in Ames, Nevada, Huxley, and Roland, is also important. In past surveys the city has undertaken we have found that approximately two-thirds of our residents are employed outside of Story City.
 
We Feel Good About Local Government Services
We might not rate federal and state government services very high, but residents feel good or very good about the services they receive from their local unit of government. In 1994, 60% thought their police, fire, parks, schools, etc. were good or very good; in 2014, 75% rated local government services good or very good.
 
In past surveys, Story City residents have rated highly their local government services.
 
We’ve Got Some Other Good Services
Medical services and programs for youth also received some significant rate increases from 1994 to 2014. In 1994, 46% rated medical services as good or very good and in 2014 that number increased to 58%. The percentage who rated programs for youth as good or very good stood at 32% and that percent jumped in 2014 to 49%.
 
One of the most difficult decisions the Story City community had to make was the sale and closure of the hospital back in 1995. Today, in partnership with Mary Greeley Medical Center, we have a thriving medical, health, and recreation facility. We might not get everything right, but Story City did on this one.
 
Amenities
Are just as important as some of the basic services we provide. Sixty percent rated outdoor recreational amenities as good or very good. I think we have some pretty great outdoor recreational amenities in Story City such as our golf course and trails system. In the next several years we will have a new swimming pool and plans are in the works for redeveloping and refurbishing our south and north parks.
 
There are other culture features in a community where 49% rated them as good or very good. I think Story City would be significantly higher in a number of areas: a) I’ll stack our library up (books and programs) against any other small community in the state, b) An active historical society with an extensive collection and educational programs on our heritage, and 3) What makes Story City truly unique is our Antique Carousel.
 
Half of those responding rated their downtown as good or very good. Downtowns are the heart of a community and a reflection of how well the rest of the community is doing. Since Story City became a Main Street community in 2000; a tremendous amount of financial resources, both public and private, and volunteer time and effort have been expended in our downtown area. Many buildings have been improved and only a few remaining empty storefronts. Compared to other downtowns, Story City is doing “better than most.”
 
I found fascinating that only 27% rated their movie theaters as good or very good. Story City is truly fortunate to have the oldest continuing operating theater in the Midwest.
 
Overall, one of the dilemmas a community has is that you can create and maintain local amenities, but if residents don’t use or support them – well as the saying goes, “use it or lose it.”
 
What truly makes a Community Thrive? Or Die?
It all starts with and the foundation rests on our Social Environment and Community Involvement. There were some very striking changes that have taken place over the last 20 years.
  • Churches – fewer people are attending. In 1994, 72% were attending services, but in 2014, that numbered decreased substantially to 55%. Nationally that number is around 40%. There are an array of reasons, but over the last 50 years there appears to have been more of a focus on ministry within the church walls rather than ministry outside in the community? Churches are one of a community’s anchors and it’s important that they thrive, but it’s also important that ministers and their congregation be out and ministry take place in the community.  

    “Welcome Traveler.” This is on the sign at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois. It’s the church Abraham Lincoln attended and on a recent trip there, Elizabeth and I attended Sunday services. Upon entering we were greeted by several individuals who “welcomed” us and could tell we were “travelers.” They showed and shared with us the Lincoln pew, the Tiffany stained glass windows, and the unique pipe organ. The wife of the organists with whom we struck up a conversation invited us to sit with her. We truly felt “welcomed” in their church community. 
     
  • We Gather Together – The most frequently mentioned – Gas Station. But, we also gather at restaurants, parks, recreation centers, community centers, bars, golf course clubhouse, churches, schools, and the library. We don’t connect in just one place, we connect in many places. Think about the many places and people we physically connect with in Story City. Now think about how important that is to building our community.  
     
  • Supporting one another – “If I feel like just talking, I usually can find someone to talk to.” In 1994, 85% agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, but in 2014 only 64% felt the same way. One of the things that makes a small town unique is how we get to know one another, how we build relationships with one another; and how we build trust with each other. A high percentage of people did feel that people would be there to support them in times of an emergency. The difference is being there for someone when it’s not an emergency. Have you met or helped anyone in Story City recently?  Someone that is new to the community or someone you might not be well acquainted with?
     
  • Sense of Community – across the board these numbers were down from 1994 to 2014. It comes down to some fundamental questions when trying to determine what is meant by “sense of community” and that is are you willing to put aside your individual interests for what’s best for the community? The question was asked, “When something needs to get done here, the whole community gets behind it?” In 1994, 58% said yes, but in 2014 only 40% answered yes. And ask yourself this telling question, “would you be sorry to leave?” In 1994, 81% said yes; in 2014, only 55% said yes.  How would you answer these questions?
     
  • Volunteerism – Why aren’t people involved like they use to be? 1) Lack of time, and 2) Not asked. The nature of volunteerism has changed. People no longer volunteer to serve what in essence is a time consuming and long period of time. Volunteers today like to be “invited” and will say yes if it is a) specific in nature, and b) for a short period of time.
 
In Story City several years ago I was concerned with what many perceived was a lack of volunteerism. Over the last several years this has changed across the spectrum with a number of younger individuals volunteering their time to serve on the Fire Department or retired individuals helping to maintain the golf course or to volunteer their time in one of our recreation programs.
 
Many, probably most, small towns face declining populations, the deterioration of their downtowns, and the closure of their schools. We're fortunate in Story City that we are not facing this – at this time. It doesn’t mean we may not face these challenges at some point. However, I think we in Story City do an excellent job in the government and non-government services that are provided. I think we in Story City provide a vast array of amenities for our community. I think we in Story City do an outstanding job at creating economic opportunity.
 
Finally, only each of you can answer for yourself whether or not you help to create the social environment and take the time to be involved so that Story City can thrive? For that is the difference for a small town to either thrive or decline and that will determine what kind of town Story City will be like in 2024.  
 
Mark A. Jackson
City Administrator


City of Story City

CITY HALL
504 Broad St.
Story City, IA 50248
(515) 733-2121
(515) 733-2460 Fax
Office Hours:
M-F 8am-4:30pm

MAYOR
Mike Jensen

COUNCIL MEMBERS
Dwayne Fiihr
Valaree Muhlenburg
Dave Sporleder
Becky Watson
Matt Triggs 

CITY ADMINISTRATOR
Mark A. Jackson
sccadmin@iowatelecom.net
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