Four representatives from the City of Storm Lake recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for a 30-year old tradition of northwest Iowa officials.
Community leaders from throughout Iowa's Fifth Congressional District attended the Northern Iowa Community Conference in the Nation's Capital, hosted by Congressman Tom Latham.
"This conference is what Iowa is truly about - community," said Latham in the opening remarks of the conference, "an opportunity for us to gather as neighbors and community leaders and discuss the unique challenges that we face with the hopes of making our communities better places to live and work."
Jon Kruse, John Call, Julie Egland and Mark Prosser were among the 70 northwest Iowa leaders to participate. Issues were chosen based on the suggestions of community leaders.
During the three-day conference participants interacted with panels of experts to discuss domestic terrorism, Iowa's brain drain where the state's educated students go out of state for jobs, diversity in Iowa communities, energy policy, EPA rules and regulations, Medicare and skyrocketing healthcare costs.
Storm Lake City Council member Julie Egland said the conference was eye-opening on several different levels - from learning about
issues such as oil exploration in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge to sitting in on a debate in the House of Representatives on a new farm bill.
Sitting in on that debate was interesting as well, because they were one of the last tourist groups to witness a congressional debate before security was stepped up.
"Right now that won't happen for a while - people can't get in because of all the restrictions and all the problems," she said.
Public Safety Director Mark Prosser said his main reason for attending the conference was to discuss public safety issues with federal representatives. Prosser met with officials to voice support for continuing funding of public safety grant programs.
There are a number of programs through the Department of Justice, and recently there has been a new addition through FEMA for fire safety equipment.
"I was voicing our support and doing what we could do to keep those programs funded and on line," Prosser said.
"The other message we received was that they didn't know what type of funding would be available or at what levels with the current military situation and war on terrorism," he said, adding it is a wait and see with many of the federally funded grant programs.
Over the last seven or eight years, Prosser said the Storm Lake Police Department has received over $400,000 worth of funding through federal programs.
That money has gone towards providing direct funding for officers, equipment and even overtime reimbursements for special operations or investigations.
"If those funds go away or dry up, it would have a substantial impact on our ability to continue the levels of service that we do," Prosser said.
Meeting with Latham was important, Egland said. "He can put a face on Storm Lake people and he knows our interest," she said.
Many of the other northwest Iowa representatives were familiar faces through other meetings in this region.
While no new issues developed, Egland said she "feels more confident that we're on the right track."
"What amazes me when I go to meetings like this is how proud I am for the organization I work for and how our elected officials and administration team, I think, stands a head taller," Prosser said.
The North Iowa Community Conference is an annual event which began just after World War II. Iowa Congressman Charles Hoeven, who represented what was then known as Iowa's Eighth Congressional District, began inviting mayors and other elected officials from his district to come to Washington, D.C., for discussion of local concerns each year. The present day conference is held in Iowa and Washington on alternating years.