Supervisors discuss impact of Luster Heights closure; Chairman Schellhammer withdraws from statewide review of Master Matrix

by Joe Moses

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday, February 13. Among the agenda items addressed were an insurance quote presentation by Kerndt Brothers Insurance, an unemployment presentation by Iowa Workforce Development and discussion of the Luster Heights facility closure.

During the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Board Chairman Larry Schellhammer presented a letter he wrote and signed as Chairman of the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors indicating his decision to no longer be involved in the Master Matrix statewide review process. The letter read, "Due to challenges to my motives and methods, I will no longer be part of the statewide effort to update the Master Matrix. My goal has always been to work toward a system that is transparent and sustainable; a system that represents the needs of both the consumer and producer. I understand the complex nature of the issues that surround this system. They present a challenge to those who continue to work toward a positive outcome. I am hopeful that all parties involved are able to work together with respect and cooperation to reach an acceptable and reasonable result."

In regular business, Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer discussed a request to participate in the Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) Career Learning Link program and job shadow option. Beyer explained that this would involve a half day for a high school student to job shadow in the Auditor's office. The Supervisors agreed that participation in this program would be valuable and encouraged Beyer to move forward with involvement in the Auditor's office.

Beyer also discussed the hiring of temporary part-time staff for the Auditor's office. Beyer recommended Heather Delaney to be hired at $12 per hour, which the Supervisors approved.

The Luster Heights facility closure was discussed by the Supervisors and several individuals present at the meeting. Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour discussed the history and positive impact that the Luster Heights facility has had assisting the County on projects and maintenance. Ridenour explained that since the mid to late 1990s, three inmates at a time were utilized at a small fee per day for maintenance tasks including signing, pothole patching and lawn mowing. Ridenour estimates that Luster Heights inmates were utilized 200 days per year for the duration of the program. Schellhammer advised that 13 Luster Heights employees will be affected with the loss of 70 inmates at the facility that were valuable to the County and various communities and projects.
Ridenour discussed the recently-filled Crew Leader position that worked with those Luster Heights inmates for the Secondary Roads Department, noting that the position may now need to transfer into a Maintenance position. Allamakee County Conservation Director Jim Janett discussed that the Luster Heights closure will hopefully be a temporary situation and that it needs to be prioritized for re-opening if that becomes a possibility. Waukon City Councilman Steve Wiedner was also in attendance and said that Luster Heights was beneficial to the work done in the Waukon City Park and that the benefits far exceed the costs.

Ridenour provided a recommendation of Dakota C. Ness for hire as a Maintenance Person #2 starting February 13 at $18.36 per hour, which was approved.

Under Department Head Updates, Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick advised that progress is being made this week in constructing the shed that will stand over the well at the Public Safety Center. Mellick said that painters are also on-site.

Ridenour said that sand is being hauled in to replenish stockpiles that have been depleted due to winter road conditions. He also advised that maintenance work and brush cutting are continuing and discussed some preparations relating to The Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI®).

Janett discussed that he will be attending a RAGBRAI meeting later today and that fundraising for the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center is going well. Janett estimates that it will be another four to five months before interpretive displays will be completed in the Driftless Center.

Beyer advised that she is working on budgeting. Supervisor Dan Byrnes suggested that the Palmer Amaranth weed should be designated as a noxious weed and fellow Supervisor Dennis Koenig advised that it is a herbicide resistant weed. The Supervisors will be discussing the matter with legislators.

Kerndt Brothers Insurance provided an insurance quote presentation with Russ Sporer and Willene White, both of County Risk Management Services, Inc. Insurance Agent and Office Manager Sandi Riha provided a brief history of Kerndt Brothers Insurance and the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP), which is a member-owned self insurance program for Iowa public entities. Sporer and White discussed specifics regarding the ICAP insurance program and benefits for the County if they choose to participate.

Ryan Murphy with Iowa Workforce Development provided a presentation about unemployment including information about statistics and trends for Allamakee County and comparisons to state averages. Murphy discussed the Laborshed Study which provides insight into workforce characteristics of local labor markets.