Supervisors approve Conservation Board’s purchase of land on split vote, hear from many in support of continued ACED funding

by Joe Moses

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday, January 30 to address a full agenda of matters. The meeting was called to order by Board Chairperson Dan Byrnes with Supervisors Dennis Keatley and Mark Reiser in attendance.

During Public Comment, Waukon City Manager Gary Boden noted that his attendance at this meeting is as an individual taxpayer, noting concerns about fiscal stress at the County level. Boden discussed his support of law enforcement but questioned the expansion of the County Sheriff’s Department with six of nine deputies’ salaries paid through the urban section of property taxes instead of rural property taxes. Boden added that if this is the case, three of those six could effectively be assigned to Waukon based on population with Waukon’s Police Department supplying back-up to the County as needed.

Boden also noted that there has been some discussion of adding another Sheriff’s Department deputy due to Yellow River State Forest (YRSF). He questioned whether the additional Sheriff’s Department deputy is needed and whether that position will be funded through urban or rural property taxes.

The meeting moved into the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) membership update and the Regional Housing Trust Fund update with UERPC Executive Director Rachelle Howe providing an overview of these matters. Howe discussed the impact of the Regional Housing Trust Fund in Allamakee, Clayton, Howard, Winneshiek and Fayette Counties. She discussed housing rehabilitation including various repairs to windows, doors, roofs, electrical, among other repairs. Howe noted that 88 percent of the region’s housing stock is aging and as of 2009, excluding Fayette County which joined this region in 2016, 494 homeowners have been assisted through this program.

Howe added that $2,961,000 has been brought in to the region due to this program. She discussed the County’s membership at $12,490 with UERPC having brought in $289 million for the region with $23 million specific to Allamakee County for water/sewer, trails, among other projects and programs. No action was taken, with this request to be considered with other funding requests.

Via Zoom web-conferencing, Allamakee County 911 Coordinator Chris Fee addressed the next agenda item relating to a request to use the County credit card for the Quicken recurring renewal. Fee noted the annual Quicken subscription has previously been paid using his personal credit card with Fee further advising that this accounting software subscription is used for record keeping relating to income and expenses associated with the 911 budget. The Supervisors approved to allow the County credit card to be used on a recurring annual basis at $45 per year for this accounting software.

The meeting moved into the consideration of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 87 Leased Asset Policy. Allamakee County First Deputy Auditor Janel Eglseder and Byrnes briefly discussed the policy, with Allamakee County Attorney Anthony Gericke joining the meeting in person and providing further clarification on the matter. Gericke advised that the policy’s language has been reviewed, with Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer having provided additional feedback to Gericke on the matter prior to the Supervisors meeting. Gericke noted that the policy relates to accounting practices associated with leased assets over $5,000 in value with Gericke providing a recommendation to approve and the Supervisors adopting the matter.

Director Crystal Duffy of the Postville Public Library provided a County Librarian Update. She noted that beyond serving as Library Director, she is the Project Manager/Community Developer with the Our Postville Heart and Soul Program. Duffy thanked the Supervisors for the County’s support of the Postville Library and provided an overview of changes made under her leadership at the library. Duffy reported that programming has tripled in the last few months with book genres expanding as part of an effort to target and appeal to more groups.

She noted that written instructions are available in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Somali to aid library patrons and that a bulletin board for job listings has been added to match local job seekers with local job opportunities. Duffy discussed learning resources available for continuing education and GED information, noting that these additions have made the library much like a community center that is welcome to all.

Byrnes noted that the Supervisors visit county libraries each year, with the Postville Library to host a Supervisors meeting later in 2023. Keatley questioned Duffy about the Heart and Soul Program, which Duffy described as a community program and research process with data to be used for various community improvements. No action was taken relating to this informational matter.

Gericke addressed the next matter relating to the consideration of the Resolution to obligate American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for laptop computer for the County Attorney’s office. Gericke discussed the proposed purchase of two laptop computers for the County Attorney’s office, with he and the Supervisors in agreement to table the matter for a couple weeks due to ongoing budget work.

The meeting moved into the consideration of the Fiscal-Year 2024 (FY24) Drainage District #1 Levy. Byrnes noted the $7,500 amount associated with this matter with the Supervisors approving the FY24 Drainage District #1 Levy.

The Supervisors approved to set Monday, February 27 at 9:40 a.m. as the date and time for the Max Levy Hearing for the Fiscal-Year 2024 (FY24) Allamakee County Budget.

Allamakee County Conservation Director Jim Janett and Conservation Naturalist Ross Geerdes were present to address the next matter relating to the consideration of a Conservation Board acquisition on Riverside Drive. Janett discussed the Conservation Board’s recommendation to purchase a 4.71-acre parcel on the Upper Iowa River. He added that the property owner had offered this property to the Conservation Board last August at a selling price of $22,000, which is approximately $4,670 per acre for the 4.71-acre parcel.

Janett noted that the parcel would be purchased using $10,900 from a fish habitat grant with the remainder of the $22,000 coming out of the REAP account with no tax dollars being put towards this property purchase. He added that this parcel will be used only as a public fishing access. Geerdes discussed the maintenance and operation of the property, which he described as an open area with some invasive species needing to be cleared out. Geerdes suggested that some picnic tables could be added with future fish habitat grants potentially supporting the addition of walkway and handicapped fishing access. It was also noted that a public restroom could be added but would need to be on an elevated or built-up area due to the parcel’s location on a flood plain.

Reiser discussed the location of other fishing access areas and public areas near this location and also noted the upkeep of other park and fishing access areas. Keatley noted reservations relating to the continued acquisition of land in the future, which he discussed with Janett, but also noting that he would not be opposed to this acquisition with the process in place and with the Conservation Board having done its due diligence relating to the matter. Byrnes noted that he respects the work done by the Conservation Board and is in support of this acquisition. The Conservation Board’s land acquisition was approved by split vote with Keatley motioning to approve with a second from Byrnes and Reiser voting against the matter.

Under Department Head Updates, Allamakee County Emergency Management Coordinator Corey Snitker discussed work being performed relating to hazard mitigation planning, a process that takes place every five years. Snitker noted that he will be attending an upcoming federal grant funding webinar and that tabletop exercises are being planned including an exercise relating to evacuation and sheltering to take place in the spring. Snitker added that work continues relating to the County Emergency Response Plan and the County Courthouse/Public Building Security Plan.

Janett updated the Supervisors about the next Conservation Board meeting and that training is ongoing with Geerdes prior to his role changing to Conservation Director. Janett discussed that other moves within the department and updates will be taking place relating to job descriptions.

Beyer discussed ongoing budget work and briefly discussed proposed legislation that, if passed, may affect valuations. The meeting then moved into budget work sessions with Janett and Geerdes providing an overview of County Conservation’s Fiscal-Year 2024 Budget.

Executive Director Val Reinke of Allamakee County Economic Development (ACED) discussed budgeting relating to ACED’s operations and efforts relating to economic development and tourism. Reinke thanked the Supervisors and Allamakee County for supporting ACED in Fiscal-Year 2023 (FY23) and encouraged their consideration of support for FY24 at that same level or above. She also discussed funding received from member organizations, utilities and businesses.

A large group of representatives from area businesses and organizations were present with each individual discussing the importance of ACED’s continuing operation in promoting economic development and tourism. Those that spoke in favor of the continued support of ACED included CEO Michael Coyle of Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH), owner Dave Janzen of Lansing Hardware, Board President of Postville Childcare Suzy Brandt, Main Street Lansing Executive Director Andy Kelleher, Branch Office Administrator Maura Jones of Edward Jones, owner Maryann Baldwin of Lansing Office Works, Branch Manager Cathy Buhl of Kerndt Bros. Bank, Economic Development Department Head Diana Johnson of UERPC, VMH Board Member Patty Nordheim, Manager of Economic Development and Community Relations Brenda Hackman of Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative, Administrator Kristy Turner of Postville Childcare Services, Inc. and Waukon City Clerk Sarah Snitker.

Byrnes noted the proposed reduction of County funding discussed last year relating to the ACED budget, which was the reason for the additional attendees during the budget work session. Byrnes further clarified that an increase of funding from the Hotel/Motel tax had been discussed as an option to decrease the County’s portion of funding towards ACED while keeping the ACED budget at the same level or above, with this not being viewed as a budget cut.