Committee members Aug. 5 debated whether an ordinance to allow ATVs and UTVs on Dubuque County’s roads should require operators to pay a county user fee.
Additionally, one committee member — County Recorder John Murphy — announced he opposed such an ordinance and shared a petition he received signed by 37 area law enforcement officials who are against the move.
“My understanding is the technology on these vehicles is just not there yet for road use,” Murphy said.
The committee, made up of county staff as well as an Iowa Department of Natural Resources warden, is tasked with drafting an ordinance that would set rules for legal recreational operation of ATVs and UTVs on county roads. Currently, only agricultural use is allowed.
On Aug. 5, committee members finished reading through and making suggestions on a draft ordinance. It will be updated before next heading to the county Board of Supervisors and being made available to the public for consideration.
The original draft of the ordinance suggested requiring a county user permit in addition to the state-required registration. Suggestions for the county fee included a $25 payment every three years or an annual $30 permit.
However, multiple committee members said Aug. 5 that they did not think those fees should be required of all-terrain and utility vehicle owners.
Murphy said he did not believe that expenses stemming from the ordinance — such as putting up signs on county roads and purchasing permit stickers — would be particularly high and the logistics of running a local permit program would be difficult.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a logistical expectation for us to recoup all of these funds (associated with the ordinance),” he said.
County Engineer Anthony Bardgett said the county would incur costs from adding signs to roads on which officials decide not to allow ATVs and UTVs. However, he said he believes his department could absorb the costs of those signs.
But County Supervisor Ann McDonough believes the county should implement a user fee. She said people who do not use ATVs and UTVs will be unhappy if the county ends up paying for expenses associated with the ordinance.
“I think there are citizens that don’t want this to just be absorbed by the county budget,” she said.
County Supervisor Dave Baker asked Bardgett to estimate the cost of erecting the necessary signage. Bardgett said it could cost $12,000 to $15,000 initially.
Baker said he would be OK with either a one-time user fee or a fee to be paid every three years. Murphy said he would recommend that such a fee be assessed annually to align with the Iowa Department of National Resources’ registration schedule.
Baker then suggested that perhaps the annual fee could be lowered to closer to $5 or $10, though he also was OK with no fee.
“My intentions were to have some funding upfront for the signs,” he said.
Committee members also continued their discussion on which roads should be excluded from usage by ATV and UTV riders.
They talked about adding Seippel Road to an earlier list of potentially excluded roads.
They also discussed how to handle about 35 roads that straddle city and county boundaries. Committee members agreed to seek input from the communities in which that is the case.
“I think it’s up to the towns to decide,” Baker said. “If we try to address 21 towns, I just think we’re not going to be successful.”
Brian Preston, executive director of Dubuque County Conservation Board, said he hopes that once the county settles on which roads to exclude, officials are sure to enforce that part of the ordinance.
“We have a list of roads on there that (Bardgett) has recommended that he at this point doesn’t think it’s a great idea to have ATVs and UTVs added to them,” he said. “I think we should stick to that list.”
Committee members also read an emailed statement from County Attorney C.J. May III, who did not attend the meeting. It stated that May believed county officials did not have to require ATVs and UTVs to display slow-moving-vehicle signs.
As committee members finished reading through the ordinance, Murphy asked to address the committee. He commended the committee for its work and said he believed members had crafted a strong ordinance. However, he said, he personally opposes allowing ATVs and UTVs on county roads.
He said he believes the general public is also concerned about ATV and UTV users drinking and driving.
He said he heard from one person concerned not about ATVs and UTVs, but “RDVs” — “recreational drinking vehicles.”
“That scared the hell out of me, to be frank,” Murphy said.
He also said he had received a petition signed by 37 area law enforcement officials opposing the ordinance. A copy of that document obtained by the Telegraph Herald features the apparent signatures of 37 people, including members of the Dubuque County Sheriff’s and Dubuque Police departments, Epworth Police Chief Jim Kauffmann, Farley Police Chief Molly Dupont, Asbury Police Chief Tom Henneberry and former Dubuque County Sheriff Leo Kennedy.
Leo Kennedy’s son, current Sheriff Joe Kennedy, has been outspoken in his opposition to allowing the vehicles on county roadways. He declined to be part of the committee creating the draft ordinance.