LEE COUNTY - After a lengthy and sometimes contentious debate, the Lee County Supervisors Monday approved committing $100,000 to the Riverview Park and Marina restoration project.
The board approved the funds at Monday's regular meeting after voting down a motion from Supervisor Garry Seyb to commit $250,000 to the project out of the county's $6.5 million ARPA allocation.
The commitment came during the board's public discussion part of the agenda, where about six people spoke on behalf of the county building the new public health and EMS building on property being donated to the county by Glen Meller and his family to be used for the construction of the health department and other public purposes.
The board also approved accepting a quit claim deed on the former Iowan property from the Meller family on a 5-0 vote.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the property was worth half a million dollars to the county.
Dr. Phil Caropreso, a Lee County Health Dept. board member, said a new facility is dire for the county emergency needs because the current facilities aren't sufficient for the jobs being performed.
"This is a suboptimal environment that challenges the performance of the Health Department and this needs to be addressed," said Dr. Caropreso.
LCHD Board chair Judy Bartachek encouraged the board to use all remaining ARPA funds and any other funding available to get the construction done. She said the $7,500 the county is currently spending each month on a lease for the space at the John Bennett Center at the former Iowa State Penitentiary, could be used to pay for a new structure.
The discussion then quickly turned from support of the new health department/EMS structure to funding for the city's park and marina restoration project.
Mohrfeld said restoration advocates are not pitting funding for the restoration project against funding for the Health Department, but showing the value of both projects to the county.
"I want to see a health department and I want to see it out there. I want to see an EMS facility there, and I'd like to even see a bigger picture where one day that would even encompass a community child care center, maybe other things. That needs to be said," he said.
Mohrfeld said Greg Shottenkirk, of Shottenkirk Automotive, has agreed to match dollar-for-dollar any contribution from the county. That money would be used in combination with other new dollars raised to leverage a Destination Iowa grant from the state of Iowa.
The Destination Iowa grant program is a $100 million investment of state ARPA funds to shovel-ready projects in the state through a competitive application process. The restoration project would apply for up to a 40% match of new funding that isn't already allocated to other grant programs. Mohrfeld was hoping that figure would include $250,000 from the county and Shottenkirk's matching $250,000. That $500,000 would be added to $350,000 that has already been privately raise, and an additional $350,000.
Mohrfeld also mentioned another $350,000 that he said could come to fruition through "convergence" that could be added to the grant funds for a total of $2 million.
"Right now there is in motion through convergence another $350,000 by the time the grant is hopefully successful that it will be matched out. That could parlay into $2 million. Anytime we can parlay our money that's a good thing."
Seyb said the board has already signed a resolution to commit up to $5.4 million on the health department and EMS bay so that's happening.
The county roughly has $3.7 million in ARPA funds remaining and is working with Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission on an Iowa Community Development Block Grant for $570,000 giving them a total of $4.27 million. Preliminary estimates on the work have set the cost of the Health Department/EMS building at between $5 million and $5.4 million. That means the county would have to find up to an additional $1.3 million to finish the project as proposed.
"Bottom line is, we're going to have to bond for something. We know that, we just hope the public will respond in a positive way," said Matt Pflug, chairman of the supervisors' board.
Tim Fencl, CEO of Danville Mutual Telephone, said the company is looking at a partnership with ambulatory services in Donnellson to provide fiber optic services. He said EMS director Dennis Cosby said it would be an asset to have the secondary Internet connection for the ambulance service.
After Seyb made his motion to approve the $250,000 from the ARPA funds, he amended the motion to stretch the payment over the next four years. That amendment was voted down with Pflug, Ron Fedler, and Charles Holmes voting against the issue. Seyb and Rick Larkin voted in favor of the ARPA spend.
Fedler then made a motion to commit $100,000 over five years to the city's restoration project, which was approved 5-0.
Seyb then moved to add $150,000 from ARPA funds to the general fund commitment to give the restoration project the quarter million it had requested. That motion also failed 3-2 along the same lines.
Lee County Economic Development Group Board President Michael Mohrfeld said the county's population is in decline and data points to quality of life issues.
"Since 1960, Lee County has seen a 26% decline in population and from 2010 to 2020, we witnessed another 6%. That means that percentage of decline is climbing. When you look at the age of our population, we're probably not on the right track," he said.
He said there are good quality jobs available in the county and housing has seen intiatives to provide sustained housing, so the main issue is quality of life.
"People are leaving Lee County for better quality of life attractions. It's plain and simple. In the same time we've lost 6% of population, the state of Iowa increased 5%. So they didn't leave Iowa, they left for bigger communities with more attractions," Mohrfeld said.
"Attraction is the biggest loss leader in Lee County and we've got to get in front of this."
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