Farm Bureau behind petition against county bond issue

County supervisors and Farm Bureau group to meet tonight in Donnellson


LEE COUNTY – A petition to block Lee County from borrowing construction funds totaling about $7.3 million has surfaced quickly emanating from the Lee County Farm Bureau.
The petition was launched last week following the Lee County Board of Supervisors' vote to hold two public hearings on bond issues for construction funding to build a new EMS bay in Keokuk and a new LCHD/EMS bay in Fort Madison.
Brent Koller, the president of the Lee County Farm Bureau Board of Directors said the move isn’t a move against the construction, but a move to force the county to put the borrowing in front of county voters.
“This petition is not a no. We’ve had 100s of people sign it. I can’t give you a solid number, but we have had 100s. I’ve never once tried to mislead people into it. When everybody’s informed, we can take it to a vote. (The petition) is not a yes or no,” he said this morning.
According to Iowa code, the petition would require 1,153 signatures that would need to be presented at the public hearings and then validated. The public hearing is set for Feb. 27.
The two boards are scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the Farm Bureau office in Donnellson as part of an annual invitation the agency gives to the board  for an update on county functions.
But Lee County Board chairman Garry Seyb took offense to the language in the petiton in a rather charged discussion with the board Tuesday morning.
The county is in the midst of constructing a new EMS facility in Keokuk at a cost of about $1.2 million and the Lee County Health Department/EMS facility in Fort Madison at a cost estimated in 2022 numbers at $5.5 million.
“They are actively seeking right now to force a vote on the bond,” Seyb said. “If they are able to do that, that  would put off the bond until the general election and then it would be voted up or voted down.”
He said funding for the Keokuk ambulance station already has $500,000 in the general fund from American Rescue Plan Act monies the county received. That is what was left from a larger chunk of ARPA funds moved over to keep the county solvent during the previous fiscal year. He said the county has already spent $120,000 on the project.
He said it does not commit the county to bond for the entire amount.
“It means we can go up to that amount if we have to, but I don’t see any reason why would have to do that,” Seyb said.
He said bonding would cost less per $1,000 on property tax rolls then it would cost the county to reach its commitment of lowering property taxes by 58 cents over the next four years. The incentive to do that is from a new state property tax law that mandates a $3.50 general levy by 2029. The county would have to cut property taxes by 58 cents each year to get there from the current $5.85/$1,000.
“So in some ways, bonding makes more sense in retaining our funds to reduce our taxes for the taxpayer. It’s not going to hurt our bonding rate, because we have ample space in our ability to bond and we have two bonds that will drop off in the next two or three years,” he said.
He said the county may not need to borrow any money for that project depending on legislation regarding traffic enforcement cameras which provide fine revenues for people caught speeding on Hwy. 27.
He said in lieu of building the new bays, the county will to have to consider what they will do to house the EMS staff, who’ve in essence, been working out of a garage.
“I threw an option out but everyone kind of blew me off on that one,” Supervisor Matt Pflug said.
Pflug proposed the county buy two buildings in Keokuk last year as an alternative to building a new health department and EMS bay. Those two buildings were sold to the Keokuk schools for roughly $500,000.
Supervisor Tom Schulz said the county wouldn’t have been better off doing that because he figured the county would have to spend an additional $250,000 to update the buildings and still wouldn’t have a sufficient facility for the Fort Madison EMS bay and would have to look at new construction there.
Seyb said the county has to bond to build the new Lee County Health Department, which he said has been needed for close to three decades.
The county currently has secured a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant, a $974,000 Rural Emergency Health Care grant from the USDA, has $1 million allocated from county ARPA funds, and a firm commitment from Lee County Community Foundation of $500,000. For a total of $3,074,000. The county is also waiting to hear on an additional $2.1 million appropriation that is part of the 2024 Ag bill that still hasn’t been approved by Congress.
Supervisor Chuck Holmes, who sits on the board’s directors, said the community foundation commitment is a minimum and more donations will come in. Those investors just want to see the project move forward, a move that Koller says is just more of the unknowns in the project.
“The scary thing about this is we are factoring a lot of what ifs. What if Miller-Meek’s funding doesn’t come in… we’re factoring in more donations after the building is built,” Koller said.
“Honestly, it’s rare that that happens People see it built and they say why donate when it’s done. Let’s maybe step back a little bit. One of my bigger concerns is that we haven’t looked at all the options. And then, when they do look at one, it’s to see how fast can they shoot it down.
“And if there is a reliance to hope that the federal government is going to function properly, well….”
Koller said it’s the process the bureau isn’t happy with and said he didn’t know if the agency would be able to collect enough signatures. They launched the effort on Thursday and have been at multiple public events presenting the petition.
“It’s a lot of people and a short time frame.”
Seyb said the people in the county already voted that the ambulance service is essential to the county, but that level of support is capped by state code.
“But it is a good indicator they think the ambulance is important and we’ve gone two years trying to figure this out.”
But he said the county does not have the funds to secure the construction of the Lee County Health Department/EMS bay. But to trigger all the other federal and state funds that are secured, they need to have a construction loan in place to meet the requirements of the CDBG and USDA grant money. Again Seyb said the county be able to borrow an amount less than the $6 million requested but has to show the county has the capability to borrow that amount to the federal agencies.

Lee County, Farm Bureau, petition, bond, debt, borrowing, Health Department, EMS, Ambulance service, voters, news, Pen City Current,


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