County sets hearing on borrowing for LCHD and EMS facilities

Hearings to be held on Feb. 26 at regular board meeting


LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Board of Supervisors has set public hearings to borrow money for construction of the new Lee County Health Department and the new Keokuk Ambulance bay.
The issue prompted a lengthy discussion Monday at the regular meeting of the board.
Both hearings are set for Feb. 26, the first on the Keokuk facility at 10:01 a.m., and the other immediately following at 10:15.
The first will be to borrow $1,300,000 under what’s called a reverse referendum that is authorized under Iowa code in urban renewal areas. The county authorized the urban renewal area for the Keokuk site, where the current ambulance garage is located in the 1500 block of Blondeau. Those funds can be borrowed unless a petition is filed by taxpayers. Petitioners must get signatures equal to 10% of the total votes cast in the county for the last general election for President or governor. In 2022, the total votes cast in Lee County for the governor’s race was 11,465, which means a petition of 1,147 valid signatures would be required to either have the county abandon the bonding, or put it up for a special election.
That bond would fall upon the county’s debt service, which has a couple current bonds ready to expire, including the jail and the conservation building construction.
The second public hearing is for the Lee County Health Department facility and would authorize bonding of up to $6 million for construction of the new facility on property donated by the Glen Meller family where the old Iowan Hotel was located in the 5000 block of Avenue O in Fort Madison.
This bond would be for a construction loan to secure funding to go out for bids on the structure. This money would be supplemented with ARPA funds of about $1,000,000; funding from the Lee County Community Foundation of at least $500,000, a state Community Development Block Grant of $600,000, a USDA Rural Emergency Health Care grant of $974,000, and a potential congressional appropriation through the USDA for an additional $2 million. Without the appropriation, the county has secured just over $3 million for the project that was designed at a cost of $5.5 million. Supervisors believe that cost will be more like $6 million with estimated increases in costs since the project was designed in 2023.
The county has been told by Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks office that there could be action on the appropriation by March 1. The project made it through to the House bill that was to go before Congress, but it suffered such deep cuts through negotations in committee that Miller-Meeks herself voted against the appropriation that was part of the larger Ag Bill.
If that appropriation is funded at even 90%, the county would see about $1.8 million additional taking it to $4.8 million. Supervisor Chuck Holmes has indicated that the community foundation could be larger, but people are waiting to see money in the bank before they commit to additional funding through the foundation.
“That’s a minimum. I think we should be optimistic about it being considerably more than that. I’ve spoken to Roger (Ricketts, the director of the foundation) a few days ago and he doesn’t want to make any promises until the money is in the bank,” Holmes said Monday.
“He’s talked to several donors who are willing to make what he calls substantial commitments to this project but they want to see it on the ground.”
All of the funds except the county’s remaining ARPA funding and the Community Foundation funds are reimbursable funds. In other words, they are last-in funding and are paid when pay applications are submitted by the general contractor. The CDBG is paid at 11% reimbursement on invoices until the grant is used up. The USDA funding, both the REHC grant and the appropriation, would also be last in funding and reimbursed after the project is complete.
That dynamic is what is prompting the county to secure a construction loan so USDA can begin moving forward with authorizing the project to move ahead.
“We’re to a point where we’re paralyzed. At the point we move and actually get in the ground and start going and they start seeing movement out there, then you’re going to see more people commit to some donations,” said Chairman Garry Seyb.
He said the county has already spent about $370,000 on the project at that location in drawings and fees.
“At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion in my mind. In my mind, it’s going there and that’s what we’re budgeting for.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked at what point does the county move on from the $2.1 million appropriation that was authorized but never passed by Congress.
“That’s why we’re moving ahead with the bonding authorization,” board member Tom Schulz said.
“The worst-case scenario is that we may have to cover that $2.1 million.”
Pflug again brought up the facilities in Keokuk that he thought were move-in ready, and were offered for sale to the county. He said the buildings were sold to the Keokuk Community School District for $230,000. He said Blessing said the county should make an offer of $400,000 to $500,000. He said the KAME building next to it also sold for $231,000.
“That’s two buildings for less than a half a million dollars. The taxpayers want us to be fiscally responsible. I felt really bad we missed that boat. We probably could have cashed that project. Was it ideal as a location for the Health Department…it would have worked.”
Seyb responded by saying that he got a call from someone in West Point talking about the Ivor Fowler building and he said both locations didn’t address the Fort Madison ambulance needs.
“Additionally, we received a piece of property valued at about $700,000. So we got that donation of ground contingent upon us putting a health department there and putting their name on it,” Seyb said.
“It’s right next to the hospital and we’ve got the other issue of the ambulance in Fort Madison. 1/3 of our calls come from Fort Madison, 1/3 out of Keokuk and 1/3 out of the county in general. We couldn’t have put the ambulance in either of those two locations.”
He said if the county doesn’t move and get bids in front of contractors then the county is looking at another year for bidding and construction and much of the funding has to be spent by the end of 2026.
Schulz said not building the facility on the former Meller property could violate the county’s agreement with the family and then the county would have to go out and look for another place or piece of property to buy, and that would jeopardize a lot of the funding that’s already in place because plans have already been submitted for that funding assistance.
Pflug said the petition is a real possibility.
“It takes quite a few signatures for that to happen, but with everything that’s going on with people getting their tax bills, we could see that happen and that’s a concern I have,” Pflug said.
“If that does happen, and I hope it doesn’t, because it’s a bad move for the taxpayer financially, what’s your next step?” Holmes asked if the county could keep the bonded amount closer to $5 million since the county already has $1.5 million of the funds. Seyb said if the bids come in higher, then the county would have to start over to get additional funds to finish the project, which would result in additional costs for bonding.

Lee County, Iowa, Lee County Health department, EMS, ambulance, Keokuk, Fort Madison, Lee County Community Foundation, Pen City Current, supervisors, Garry Seyb, Matt Pflug, Chuck Holmes, bond, reverse referendum.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here