Supervisors pass pair of resolutions in regard to funding shortfalls for mental health and transportation infrastructure

Tuesday, January 6 the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors, along with mentors and other community supporters, signed a proclamation stating that January 2015 is National Mentoring Month. Pictured in the back row is the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors (left to right), Dan Byrnes, Dennis Koenig and Larry Schellhammer. Pictured in the front row (left to right) are mentor volunteer Bob Rotach, Helping Services Mentoring Coordinator Kathy Schwartzhoff, Mentoring Committee member Danny Schlitter and Helping Services intern Courtnee Demuth.

by Bob Beach

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors held two regular meetings over the past week as a result of a change in its meeting day from Tuesday morning back to Monday morning each week. Though the Board voted Friday, January 2 to make the change in its meeting day, that change did not go into effect until this week, as the agenda for the Tuesday, January 6 meeting had already been established.
During its January 6 meeting, the Board met with Kathy Schwartzhoff, Mentoring Coordinator for Helping Services for Northeast Iowa, who reported that there are currently eight youths in Allamakee County between the ages of five and 16 who have been paired with adult mentors and that five children are on a waiting list for mentors. She also reported that 99% of children who participate in the mentoring program agree with the statements "I have a lot to be proud of about myself," "I feel good about myself most of the time," and "I can say no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco." Following Schwartzhoff's presentation, the Board signed a proclamation declaring January to be National Mentoring Month.
The Board also met with Lori Brockway, representing the Northeast Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund, who asked the Board to renew its annual pledge of $10,000, and with Northeast Iowa Community Action Director David Boss, who presented his organization's funding request for the coming fiscal year. The Board agreed to consider both requests during its budget discussions in the coming weeks.
The Board also held a brief discussion regarding Allamakee County Attorney Jill Kistler's request to adjust County holidays to coincide with State holidays by closing courthouse offices for Martin Luther King Day and keeping the offices open for Presidents' Day. The Board agreed to consider making that change during the County's negotiations with labor unions representing Sheriff's Department and Secondary Roads employees. As it would not be practical to make the suggested change this year, the Board approved the list of County holidays as presented.
In other business, the Board reappointed Dennis Nebendahl and Bob Drahn to the Waste Management Board and Dennis Keatley to the Board of Adjustment. The Board also approved hiring Roger Mahr as a motor grader operator for Secondary Roads beginning January 20 at $17.20 per hour.

During its regular meeting Monday, January 12 the Board unanimously passed a resolution to encourage the State of Iowa to take action to address shortcomings in the state's mental health care system, focused primarily on the lack of bed space for those in a state of crisis. Board Chairman Larry Schellhammer, who directed County Attorney Jill Kistler to draft the resolution, said that he hopes to shed light on the problem by calling on the Supervisors in all Iowa counties to pass the same resolution and put pressure on legislators in Des Moines to address the problem. He pointed out that part of the problem is that there are so many different departments involved in the issue and that the resolution calls on the Department of Correctional Services, the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, County Social Services, local law enforcement agencies and the Department of Inspection of Appeals to work together towards a solution.
Supervisor Dennis Koening said that prior to the regionalization of Iowa's mental health care system, Allamakee County taxpayers paid $58 per person for mental health and developmental disabilities services. He said that amount had since been reduced to $47.28 per capita and will likely be reduced again. "I'm all for lower taxes," he said, "but not if it means we're losing services." He added that most people aren't even aware that the problem exists and that he believes that passage of the resolution is a good first step in raising awareness.
Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick said that he has seen a reduction of beds available for people in a state of mental health and/or substance abuse crisis. As a result, he said, deputies have to spend more time finding beds for such patients and more time transporting them to Ames, Des Moines or farther once an available bed is found.
In an additional effort to draw attention to the conditions of Iowa's roadways, the Board also passed a resolution calling on the State of Iowa to "provide adequate statewide funding to offset the project shortfall for our most critical needs of over $215 million annually" by raising the motor vehicle fuel tax, enabling the Iowa Department of Transportation to provide primary highway funds to counties and cities in place of federal funds, increasing the permit fee for oversized vehicles and distributing any new funds consistent with the Road Use Tax distribution formula. Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour said that a 10-cent increase in the state's fuel tax would provide over $700,000 in additional funding for county roads in Allamakee County alone.
The Board also met with Conservation Director Jim Janett, who presented the Board with an amended agreement with the City of Lansing regarding connection of water and wastewater lines to the Columbus Bridge property, the future site of a visitor center. Janett said the addendum deals with details about the water lines, valving system and leak monitoring. Janett also reminded the Board of a public meeting to held at the Kerndt Brothers Savings Bank Community Center this Thursday, January 15 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. regarding plans for the visitor center's construction and the educational displays that will be included.
In other business, the Board met with representatives from all of the public libraries, who thanked the Board for its continued financial support. They encouraged the Board to continue its past support and to make plans to visit their libraries. The Board also appointed Laurie Martin of Waukon to the Board of Health and approved the addition of a full-time administrative position to the Conservation Department.