Gov., Lt. Gov. address concerns in Howard County

Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke to a group of people at Grange Hall on May 23. They also answered questions on their way to visiting each of the 99 counties in Iowa.

Making good on their vow to visit all 99 counties, Iowa’s top elected officials visited Howard County on May 23.

Approximately 75 concerned citizens attended the meeting with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, at Grange Hall in Cresco.

Reynolds spoke briefly about the need to create jobs. “You can’t use 20th century tools for 21st century solutions. The commercial property tax is the highest in the nation and doesn’t help at attracting business.” Which in turns means more jobs in Iowa.

Branstad added, “We still have 100,000 people unemployed.” Helping Main Street businesses may help. Other solutions are to look at the regulatory burdens put on business. He said all new regulations are required to have a job creation report submitted with the proposal.

“We think Iowa can grow in this economy. We want to expand our exports and want to make Iowa the ‘Healthiest State in America.’ That would a great asset to attract business,” he commented.

When it was time for questions, Howard County Treasurer Warren Steffen wondered how the reduction in commercial property tax would be made up. The governor replied, “It will phase in for a five-year period. We have a five-year projected budget to replace the loss. Plus we anticipate there will be some growth.”

Carlton Kjos made several statements including reminding the governor about not using the ending fund as part of the regular budget; the state must fully fund K-12; property tax has increased 60 percent in last 10 years; and the costs farmers bear with deer.

Branstad responded, “The DNR wanted to reduce the number of deer killed. Most everyone else disagrees and we rejected that proposal.” He added he put local Conrad Clement on the DNR Commission to give his input from northeast Iowa.

For schools, the administration “Wants to change the way we fund—by going to student performance,” Branstad explained.

Kathy Barloon of NE Iowa RSVP, a volunteer group helping seniors, gave Gov. Branstad a simulated check for $10,263,014.00, depicting the amount money the volunteer hours have saved the state. She added the program in NE Iowa gets just $180,000 from the state.

She gave some figures about the state-wide program saying there were 260 volunteers in NE Iowa who distribute food, visit the elderly, help with income tax and other services.

Kevin Schoeberl asked what the thinking was behind the two-year budget. Branstad replied, “With a two-year budget it is long-term planning and makes for a more sustainable budget. We not only have a two-year budget but a five-year plan.”

Schoeberl also asked about the overlap in government. The governor said there was reorganizing going on at the State lever. Reynolds added, “Some agencies are sharing (resources and people).”

Branstad agreed with the Cresco attorney some agencies have been “top heavy” in the past but his adminstration is “looking to reformulate the mental health system.”

He has also cut down on the number of State Patrol officers reporting for protection detail of the high-ranking officials. By cutting down on that, more troopers can be put on the road.

Alison Holten, of NICC, stressed how important community colleges are to the state since they help train and educate potential employees.

Julie Huiskamp, also of NICC, applauded the two-year budget. She went on to say, “I’m proud to live in this community. They voted to put a tax on themselves to build a school. Now, 80 percent of the juniors and seniors take college classes.”

Lisa Peterson, emotionally talked about her concern on performance-based pay in regards to special education. Branstad replied, “Special education students may not be able to achieve like others.” He mentioned they were still able to improve and learn.

Peterson was also concerned about having to cut teachers to make the budget. “It used to be 12-15 per class, now it’s up to 28 kids. It’s hard to get the one-on-one help for the kids” with that many in class.

Several times during the meeting, Branstad talked about an education summit taking place July 25-26, where new ideas will be shared. “We are looking at a major change. We need to plan and prepare for the future.”

When talking salaries, etc. the former president of Des Moines University urged students going into teaching and other professions, “to not borrow as they can. They’re mortgaging their future.” He said college students should try to work their way through school and not incur so much debt.

Mitchell County Supervisor Stan Walk commented on some county issues including unfounded mandates. “If a person dies in our county and not under a doctor’s care, we have to pay for the autopsy.”

He added the law changed on the Veteran’s Affairs office. “W used to share with Cerro Gordo and paid $1,000. Now we have to have our own director and pay $30,000.”

Branstad said the administration is doing a comprehensive review so the state can give some relief for these issues.

Spiff Slifka talked about what a great deal the Housing Trust Fund is to rural counties and how each county is allowed to choose how to spend the grant money. “You didn’t say ‘We know what you need.’ You said, ‘You know what you need.’ Thanks for letting us do that.”

 

 

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