‘A perennial issue’First legislative briefing of the session held Saturday
Even with the snowy conditions on Saturday, Jan. 18, citizens came to the first legislative briefing at the Washington County Courthouse. Topics ranging from the possibility of increasing the fuel tax, to the concerns about the mental health systems, to IPERs were discussed at the briefing.
The briefing included Sen. Sandra Greiner, R-Dist. 45, Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Dist. 42, Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Dist. 78, and Rep. David Heaton, R-Dist. 84.
Washington school board member Ericka Raber came and spoke as a representative for the Washington Community School District (WCSD). She said it would be great to have the allowable growth set relatively soon in the session and said the district was supportive of hours versus days in regard to school start dates, which would give local districts more control of the calendars. She said WCSD was supportive of the Iowa Association of School Boards initiatives in resource sharing among districts, supporting the education system that’s based on education assistance, and continued support/progress of rigorous content standards that goes along with the Iowa Core.
“So how do you feel about that mandatory school start date?” asked Heaton.
“Well, as long as there’s a waiver, I personally don’t think it matters all that much,” Raber said.
“So in other words leave it for local—it’s a local issue?” Heaton said.
Raber said she would love for this to happen. Heaton said he was in support of continuing with the school start date waivers.
Both Klein and Greiner said the school start date was a tough issue. Greiner added by saying school districts were fighting a political giant—the people who operated the state fair, and the people who run hotels in the northern part of the state, called the Great Lakes Area.
“Once school starts, their business is gone,” Greiner said. “I think that’s going to be a perennial issue. If you do change it, it doesn’t matter what happens, there’s going to be a fight and a pull from somewhere; so I think it’s just one of those things you’re going to have to deal with as far as into the future as I can see.”
Setting the mandatory start date and having the school start date waiver would be the easiest for the state, Greiner said.
Richard Young, Washington County Supervisor for Dist. 5 came for Jack Seward Jr. who couldn’t be at the briefing. He gave the representatives and senators letters with concerns about the regional mental health and the ending of a grant from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help facilitate financially disadvantaged Iowans in small towns to afford necessary and required wastewater treatment with subsidization for Utility Management Organizations (UMO).
The regional mental health facility will be fully functional by July 1, 2014, but whether the state has accurate funding to maintain the services has yet to be seen, Young said. Also, the UMO grants being ended by the DNR would cause Washington County to pay more into RUSS.
Heaton asked how much the county would have to pay once the DNR grant ends. Young said the county pays $8,000 to RUSS in dues but would probably
increase to $8,000 for the next 40 years because of the way the 28E’s are set up.
Klein said he only heard about the grant being discontinued on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The money for the grants came from the Clean Water Act from the federal government to the states, which leaves a shortfall for the state to figure out.
“There’s some debate about how much each county is going to end up covering,” Klein said. “So right now it’s been an issue I’ve known about less than a week, and we’ve had our budget even less time than that to go through; so at this point, other than being able to say this is a federal issue, this is why we can’t get too dependent on federal government money. I don’t have a clear answer as to how we’re going to resolve the issue, but it is something to address.”
Heaton addressed the mental health concerns. He said he has looked at the regional facility and he didn’t see any concern about not having adequate resources. Eighty percent of the funding for regional health care facilities is supposed to go to the state and 20 percent would be dispersed among the counties, Heaton said. There is a proposal of waiting a year and there will be a lot of debate about whether or not the amount going to the state should be decreased to help the counties.
Washington County Engineer Jacob Thorius said he was disappointed at the lack of leadership from Capital Hill with the possibility of increasing the gas tax. A one-time fix of $220 million dollars wouldn’t be enough, and he asked for more support with raising the gas tax.
“Well, I think the people that have their bridges closed right now and are facing closures would appreciate some one0-time money to fix their bridges when we have the money sitting in Des Moines, so that’s why I’m trying to do it, to try to show leadership because we knew the gas tax was not going to move,” Klein said. “I was trying to get more money out to our counties.”
There have been serious and heated discussions in Des Moines about the road use and gas tax in Des Moines for several of the past years, Klein said. In the end it’s all about how does the state fix the roads correctly, he said.
There is lack of support from the governor for raising the gas tax, Heaton and Taylor both said. Without his support they don’t see a bill for the gas tax going any further than just talk.
Rusty Rogerson was the final person to address the legislators at the briefing. He is a retired state employee and asked the legislators about a letter all IPERs recipients got in January.
“All IPERs retirees received a notice last week that the dividends we normally receive in January to cover the increased cost of living would no longer be paid,” Rogerson said. “And I’m just wondering if there’s going to be any discussion or actions taken for all of those of us who are retiree’s.”
Greiner received the same letter Rogerson had. She said the issue is people are living longer and funding has run out because of this. The way to solve this issue was to try to pull younger people in to pay up the IPERs fund. IPERs is addressed every two years by state Legislatures, Greiner said. She thinks it will be addressed but isn’t sure how they’ll fix the issue.
Heaton also received his last check. He said more money from the state level would have to be put into the IPERs system because it needed to be fixed. However, since this is an election year he didn’t think much progress would be made.
The next legislative briefing will be held Feb. 22, at 10 a.m. at the Washington County Courthouse.