Bruns casts no vote, says farmers are already struggling to survive in BV
The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors decided on a vote of 4-1 to provide $600,000 for the purchase of a dredge for an expanded lake restoration project.
The county's decision on Tuesday now brings the total committed to the project to approximately $1.5 million.
The board of supervisors acted on a request made by the Lake Preservation Association for funds to buy a dredge.
Supervisor Jim Gustafson made the motion. Supervisors Lorna Burnside, Herb Crampton, Dick Vail and Gustafson voted in favor.
Supervisor Doug Bruns voted against the motion, voicing concerns that farmers and farm owners would pay between 60 and 70 percent of the cost.
Bruns said he is supportive of the lake dredging project, but would rather see funds come from private donors or on a per capita or per household basis.
"I don't know how I could force people to pay for it when they're struggling to survive," he said of farmers.
The board has not made final decisions on how the money will be appropriated. The board could borrow up to $400,000 through the public hearing process. No public vote would be required.
The $600,000 commitment from the county provides the LPA the tools necessary to go after state and federal funding for the project, LPA members said at the meeting.
Also, with county funding, the City of Storm Lake will agree to provide $225,000 in local option sales tax dollars to purchase ancillary equipment needed for a dredge, such as piping and jon boats. The city has already bought a dredge spoil site on the east side of Storm Lake for $375,000. The City of Lakeside has also pledged financial support.
Private fundraising has raised $250,000 in pledges, LPA member Gary Lalone said. "It's still growing," he added, even though the LPA will not kick-off its fund drive officially until the June 18 annual meeting.
"A vote for a dredge is a vote for economic development as well as a vote to save the fourth largest natural lake in the state of Iowa," Lalone said.
He said excitement is growing for the project. "We could have a project up and going to a certain degree next year," he said.
Bruns said he supports the lake dredging project, but voiced several concerns over having taxpayer money going towards purchasing a dredge.
"I look at who pays the county's share of that, and 60 to 70 percent of that is... farmland owners," Bruns said. "Everybody will see a little increase, but (a farm owner) will see his taxes increase five to seven times everybody else."
He said he would be more supportive if the project could be done on a per household or per capita basis.
"At this time, farmers are in a crisis situation," Bruns said.
Bruns, who is also an accountant, said he did the taxes of 135 farmers this spring.
"Ten of them had enough money to buy some - not a lot - of new equipment, but that meant 125 didn't buy any equipment and were wondering how to pay their bills on time," he said.
He suggested having people pay on a voluntary basis. "I don't know how I could force people to pay for it when they're struggling to survive," he said.
Before voting on the motion to purchase a dredge, Bruns offered an amendment requiring a public vote before the board of supervisors allocated money for the project. The amendment failed, with Bruns the only supervisor voting in favor.
Then following the vote on Gustafson's motion, Bruns wanted to make another motion for the county to cease funding for land acquisition through the conservation board until the lake dredging project is complete. He withdrew the motion, though.
Supervisor Gustafson said he could understand Bruns' concerns.
"You and I are the two farmers on the board - you're probably right," Gustafson told Bruns at the meeting.
However, Gustafson said it was time to make a decision, saying the lake is a vital part of the county.
"That lake is just as important as a road," he said.
Gustafson said others in the county are hit twice for funding, such as Storm Lake and Lakeside who pay county levies and have also decided to contribute a portion of their local option sales tax receipts to the project. The county uses its local option sales tax strictly for the rural fund, he noted.
The county's contribution will not exceed $600,000 and will come through the budgeting process, according to the resolution Gustafson read.
"I think this makes us better managers if we can come in here and budget the dollars," Gustafson said. "Financial institutions are willing to work with us. We got to step through the door here.
"If the dredge is the foundation of the house, we're not going to get it built without it," he said.
Gustafson said a $400,000 loan spread over 10 years would amount to less than 1 percent annually of the county's $11 million budget.
"We're not looking at breaking the budget here," he said. "I think the taxpayers think we should be able to do this."
Supervisor Crampton said he was "definitely in favor" of the project.
"When I moved here 30 years ago there was a dredge on this lake and it was making those islands," he said. "This gives the state the notion that we're obligated."
Supervisor Burnside said she received 30 phone calls in favor of county support and only one opposed. She noted she was glad to see more state lake funding.
"I was afraid it would be lost in the shuffle, but it's still intact," she said.
There was overwhelming support for the project from those gathered at Tuesday's meeting. Applause followed the supervisors' vote.
Chris Nolte, executive director of Storm Lake Area Development, said the lake project is an economic development tool for the county. He read a letter to the board citing SLADC's support for the county to purchase a dredge. In the letter, Nolte said the lake is a "catalyst" for economic development and a "major quality of life factor."
"The lake is the one thing that sets us apart from many communities competing for new jobs," he said.
Marilyn Monson, director of the Storm Lake Chamber, told supervisors that supporting lake restoration efforts will benefit all communities in the county.
According to Monson, the county will be certified this week as part of the Community Economic Preparedness Program through the Iowa Department of Economic Development.
"That means Buena Vista County is certified and prepared to provide tourist attractions," she said, calling the certification a "feather in the cap" for the county.
All of the county is promoted through the chamber's tourism promotions, she said. However, "the lake is the key attraction to Buena Vista County," she noted.
"Any of the surrounding counties would give their right arm to have a lake like we have," she said. "Our lake can be our major tourist attraction, but we have to take care of it."
The LPA first requested the county's support last fall, but last month requested the county consider purchasing a dredge. The group hoped for an answer before its June 18 annual meeting, which Jeff Vonk, the director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is expected to attend.
The county's participation will allow the LPA to show wide support to not only the DNR, but also the state and federal government.
Phil Redenbaugh, a member of the LPA, said the county's contribution means a lot to the project.
"This provides a unique opportunity for the board of supervisors to leverage its investment against private donations, foundation grants and federal dollars," he said.
Additional funding has been set aside by the state legislature for lake dredging, thanks to the efforts of House Speaker Brent Siegrist and State Senator Mary Lou Freeman, Lalone said.
Approximately $350,000 has been appropriated, and while it's not earmarked for Storm Lake, Lalone said the "unique coalition" between the cities of Storm Lake and Lakeside, Buena Vista County and private citizens makes Storm Lake a strong contender for the funding.
At the meeting, Senator Freeman said if further state money is allocated for Storm Lake, there could be the potential for even more dredging with the current project. The money will be available after July 1 of this year.
"The spoil site could hold more," Freeman said. "It could be a buffer between the city and county starting and keeping the dredge going."
State Senator Steve King also attended Tuesday's meeting, saying he was impressed with the local effort.
"I do think you've taken a lot of steps since last year that puts you in control of the project rather than other government entities," he said.
"I would like to see at least half the lake dredged down to 13 feet and deeper in the center if we can," King said, adding the possibility of wetlands further in the watershed to act as buffer areas.
Burnside said she could understand the need for a broad level of support. "There's not really any entity that could do it themselves," she said.
Dredging is not the only aspect to the LPA plan, Lalone noted. A water quality commission would be established to oversee the dredging and other components of the lake restoration project.
Some highlights include water quality initiatives in the Storm Lake watershed and even a possible walking/biking trail around Little Storm Lake, he said.
Lalone said the time is now for the project, saying the LPA would "not be able to kick up" support for it five years down the road.
Also, Lalone said dredging consultant Jim Ganske expects the dredge and additional equipment will be worth 50-75 percent its value of purchase after 10 years. The city and county will evenly split the sale of the dredge equipment after the project is complete, Lalone said.
Anne Montague of the group Managing Earth's Resources has been invited to Storm Lake to discuss possible uses of dredge spoil. Lalone said the LPA wants to find additional economic value for the project.
She met with the LPA last night.