DeWitt city officials are crafting an ordinance that would permit licensed drivers 18 or older to operate utility terrain vehicles (UTV) within the city limits of DeWitt.
The city’s current code says UTVs, also commonly called side-by-sides, cannot be operated on a city street with a speed limit greater than 25 mph. The law essentially restricts the vehicles from entering town or leaving, as the roads in and out of the city have speed limits that eclipse that threshold.
The current code also specifically prohibits their operation on main thoroughfares like 11th Street, Humeston Road, Industrial Drive, Sixth Avenue, Lake Street and 300th Avenue. Those restrictions would be removed if the law is passed by the council.
Before now, the city has not permitted UTV operation in the city due to safety concerns with the UTVs, but DeWitt City Administrator Steve Lindner said design advancements are making the vehicles more viable.
“The vehicles since the time we set this ordinance have improved their safety features,” Lindner said. “And so, between the improved safety measures and increased use of them locally, they are becoming fairly typical to see in other communities.”
Matt Kent, a UTV aficionado and DeWitt resident who has advocated for the law to change for several years, said allowing UTVs into DeWitt could provide an economic boost to businesses that cater to UTV riders, including convenience stores, restaurants and bars. UTV enthusiasts are known to partake in large-group rides that sometimes encompass dozens of riders traveling from one town to another. Those riders avoid DeWitt, he said.
“The UTV people, they are scared of DeWitt,” Kent said at a recent council meeting. “They don’t come in (DeWitt). They don’t want to be in (DeWitt). They don’t spend their money in DeWitt. They choose to spend it in other cities.”
The changes to the law, which have not yet been officially proposed to the council for a vote, say the vehicles will be permitted on all city streets, including Old U.S. 61 and Old U.S. 30, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
As it has in the past, the city will require all UTVs operating in the city to undergo inspection and annual licensure specific for operation in DeWitt. The law also proposes all UTVS must follow road rules that typical vehicles are subject to, including utilizing headlights, seatbelts, and turn signals.
“UTVs have really come along in their ability at traveling at higher speeds, and they are nearly car-like,” Lindner said.
“They’re probably more safe than a motorcycle as long as they have turn signals, headlights, seatbelts, horns, those types of things,” said DeWitt Chief of Police Dave Porter. “And brake lights, just like a car.”
Kent said the majority of UTVs do not come equipped with turn signals, but many riders apply after-market signals for their own safety.
UTVs are also permitted to operate on secondary roads within Clinton County by a licensed driver 18 years or older between 4 a.m. and 10 p.m. Drivers 16-18 can drive a UTV in the country but must pass a course provided by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. DeWitt’s new UTV law — if passed — would allow those riding in the county to enter town at their leisure as long as they have a DeWitt-issued license to do so.
The county law says UTVs must be operated at 35 mph or less or “at a speed that is reasonable or proper under existing conditions.”
The county also requires headlights, taillights and a muffler.
The council will address the new potential law at a future meeting.
First Street planning rolling
The council approved a contract with Origin Design for First Street reconstruction planning. The contract, for $207,000, covers topographic surveys, final design, construction administration and field services.
The estimated $1.6 million project includes reconstruction of the 800 block of First Street in DeWitt near Little Trees Park. The work is scheduled to take place in the spring.
Vacant building ordinance in works
City officials continue to develop an ordinance that would help them keep track of buildings deemed vacant.
“We have a couple we are concerned with,” Lindner said.
The ordinance, which has not yet been presented to the council for vote, will provide officials with a way to communicate with vacant building owners and monitor their condition.
“We don’t have a large problem with vacant buildings; there aren’t many of them,” Lindner said. “But we don’t want to have a problem. The intent is to allow us to better communicate and be in contact with owners of these buildings, so they don’t become marginalized where (the buildings) become dangerous to people or threatening to a neighborhood.”
If passed, the law will require vacant buildings to be annually inspected for hazards and be subject to an undetermined fee.
A building will be considered vacant if it meets a series of criteria, including if it is unsecured, is not hooked up to city utilities, or does not meet building code standards.
In other business, the council:
• Approved an employee assistance program with Personal Assistance Services (PAS) to provide city employees with medical consulting and wellness services. The city contracted with Genesis Medical System for almost 20 years to provide the service, but Lindner said Genesis is contracting out the service to PAS. The rate charged by PAS — $3.33 per hour — is less than the Genesis fee, Lindner said. The service will cost the city $1,358 for one year. Lindner said the agreement is for three years but noted to the council that city employees rarely use the service, especially recently.
• Approved the release of a forgivable loan mortgage for Pauline Burken at 314 Ninth St. Burken participated in the city’s low-to-middle-income home rehabilitation program in 2006 and entered into a forgivable loan agreement with the city. The loan has been depreciated, Lindner said.
• Approved the release of a forgivable loan mortgage for Cynthia Burke at 709 4th St. Burke participated in the city’s low-to-middle-income down-payment assistance program in 2016 and entered into a forgivable loan agreement with the city. The loan has been depreciated, Lindner said.
• Approved the purchase of a hydraulic rescue tool for the fire department for $10,210.
• Authorized the purchase of a new computer for the Parks & Recreation Department. The city purchased a Lenovo from Computer Evolution for $1,049.98. It will be used by department director Kevin Lake.