The first Legislative Coffee of 2014 at Chariton Valley Planning and Development in Centerville was well attended by more than 40 and for 80 minutes the talk was primarily about water quality and Rural Improvement Zones.
The Legislative Coffee is a tradition in Centerville where elected officials who represent Appanoose County come to face their constituents with their questions and concerns.
Elected officials who represent Appanoose County are Rep. Larry Sheets, of Moulton and Sen. Ken Rozenboom, of Oskaloosa.
To start the Coffee, each man delivered opening comments, which mostly centered on what has transpired in Des Moines since the 85th legislative session opened on Jan. 13.
What followed was a heavy dose of questions dealing with water quality next followed by RIZ’s and then education.
Sheets said he is working to insure Iowa and not a federal group controls the school curriculum and testing standards for Iowa school children.
Gov. Branstad issued an executive order to that effect, but Sheets said he is working to insure the governor has the support of the legislature.
Sheets said some want a 6 percent increase in allowable growth for education. He called 6 percent “playing politics.”
Sheets said over the last 20 plus years, education funding increases have been closely tied to state revenue increases, which average around 3.1 percent per year.
Rozenboom said the Senate passed a 6 percent increase in education supplemental state aid, or allowable growth.
“I do not believe that’s sustainable, as Larry pointed out,” Rozenboom said. ‘We’ve never hit that 6 percent number before. The highest we’ve ever promised was 4 percent.”
Rozenboom said the state has a bad habit of not keeping its promises, especially with education funding where six out of the last 12 years the state has not delivered on what it promised.
Rozenboom called that “irresponsible budgeting.”
The Iowa Legislature last year approved a 4 percent increase in allowable growth for education.
A man who identified himself as Frank talked about Sundown Lake. He said he lives full-time at Sundown Lake and water quality is important to him and the others who live there.
“It is my sincerest wish that someday my grand kids will be able to walk down to the lake and catch a mess of panfish and have a great time with grandpa,” Frank said.
Next, he talked about how the folks who live at Sundown Lake want to be a part of the “solution that is a win-win for everybody. We want to be a part of the dialogue.”
Frank said “Water quality is clearly an issue for all of us that have invested in Sundown. We believe that if the lake thrives, the whole community thrives.”
Frank said Sundown Lake is a “jewel” in Appanoose County but the homeowners cannot ignore the siltation issues they have.
The issue of a RIZ at Sundown Lake has a history that dates back to November of 2012.
At that time, the Coves of Sundown Lake Owner’s Association petitioned the Appanoose County Board of Supervisors to establish a RIZ. The board denied that request but a judge in February of 2013 overturned the supervisor’s decision. The board voted to appeal the judge’s decision in March of 2013.
Aerial photos presented during the initial petition showed the lake was shrinking in size as more and more silt entered the basin.
As a RIZ, a certain percent of taxes stay in the zone to address pressing issues. In this case, the need to spend money to keep the lake intact.
Under the provisions of Iowa Code Chapter 357H, if a RIZ is established it is entitled to receive and use all future real estate taxes based on the total incremental taxable valuation (that is, any increase in the tax base for the proposed zone) from and after the date of its approval. Those taxes may be used by the RIZ (through a Board of Trustees who are to be elected residents of the proposed zone) for “improvements,” which are further defined as “dredging, installation of erosion control measures, land acquisition, and related improvements, including soil conservation practices, within or without the boundaries of the zone.”
Sheets authored a RIZ bill last year to change some of the language in the original bill.
He called the current RIZ bill poorly conceived.
Sheets said he wants it replaced with one that allows RIZs to be controlled locally.
“Right now, the citizens of Appanoose County have no say, no representative government to be able to make decisions on the RIZ, the way things stand,” Sheets said.
Sheets’ RIZ bill has a sunset provision which allows elected county officials to review every 10 years the need to continue subsidizing new zones with county tax revenues.
The local government subcommittee passed the RIZ bill and it will be addressed by the full committee soon.
Rozenboom has a companion RIZ bill in the Senate.
The original RIZ legislation is “a bad law,” Rozenboom said. “But it has some good components.”
Rozenboom said what’s not good is RIZs can be created without the support or endorsement of the county’s board of supervisors and the legislation does not provide for a sunset to the RIZ.
Rozenboom said he doesn’t see much happening with proposed RIZ legislation this year.
Rozenboom said what he would like to see happen is to see both the people in RIZ’s and county officials and citizens gaining a benefit.
“If it all works out, it should be a value to the whole county,” Rozenboom said. “Therefore, everyone should benefit from it in some form or another. Right now it seems to me it’s all or nothing. It’s one or the other.”
Despite the fact Sheets nor Rozenboom talked about water quality in their opening statement, at least four people raised questions on that subject.
One man was concerned about Iowa’s water pollution and impaired waterways and what, if anything, had either Sheets or Rozenboom done to address it.
Sheets said he planted 120,000 trees on his property to act as nutrient buffers.
Sheets said the biggest water pollution problem he’s aware of is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and efforts underway now to try and solve that problem.
Rozenboom talked about the Nutrient Reduction Strategy passed last year by the Legislature due in part to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that addresses point and non-point sources of water pollution.
“It’s a very comprehensive strategy to reduce nutrients getting into the water,” Rozenboom said, which encourages the use of cover crops, nitrogen destabilizers and buffers. “It includes a lot of components.”
Rozenboom said municipalities could see increased regulation of its waterworks system.
“So, it’s going to involve everybody, I think,” Rozenboom said. “The spotlight has always been on agriculture and legitimately so. The spotlight is shining brighter on other sources of nutrient pollution as well.”
Rozenboom said the Nutrient Reduction Strategy last year was funded at $2.4 million and this year expects funding at $4.4 million.
One woman asked about water quality and what happens to people when there is a manure spill. Is anyone ever fined for a manure spill?
Rozenboom said fines have been given out by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for a lot of years.
“I’m not aware that they’ve quit fining people,” Rozenboom said. “And to pay for fish, if there is a fish kill.”
Rozenboom said manure spills are “a very tiny piece of this equation. They happen very infrequently.”
The woman said she contacted the DNR and was told when a manure spill happens they try to educate the farmer.
“They led me to believe that they educate and educate and educate,” she said. “At what point are they fined?”
“They are fined,” Rozenboom said, adding he has attended Environmental Protection Commission meetings where they consider if a fine is appropriate.
One man asked about rankings and if Iowa ranked 49th in the nation when it comes to water quality. Or are we higher?
Sheets said states set their own standards which makes state-to-state comparisons very difficult.
Rozenboom said in the last 15 to 20 years, Iowa factories were emitting 225,000 tons of air pollution a year which has dropped to less than 100,000 tons per year.
The same man asked if water quality in the state of Iowa has gotten better or worse in the last 10 years.
Rozenboom answered that question by focusing on the number of hogs in Mahaska County, which hasn’t changed since the 1970s. What has changed is the way those hogs are raised, he said.
“Back then, virtually all of them were outside,” he said. “Where did the waste go? Now, all of the waste is regulated. Virtually all of it is collected and knifed into the ground. A greatly improved way from 40 years ago.”
The same man asked, Is water quality getting better?
“Yes,” Rozenboom said.
A man was the fourth person to raise the issue of water quality.
He talked about the prospect a hog lot was being proposed for Davis and Appanoose County and how neighbors don’t want it built.
He brought up Maschhoff Pork and their recent manure spill and $10,000 fine. He said that facility had four manure spills in the last few years.
His question was, What can be done to hog lot operators who are not good operators?
Rozenboom agreed: “There are bad actors in every industry. I will grant you that.”
Rozenboom said he’s had very minimal experience with manure spills in his area of Iowa. He said manure spills are a “non-issue” in Mahaska County.
The same man said water quality in his lifetime has gone down as streams he played in and fished in as a kid no longer support aquatic life and there are hog facilities right up stream.
“I’ve seen manure go down streams,” he said.
The man said the state has more than 400 impaired waterways and it appears the DNR doesn’t care.
Rozenboom, who raises hogs in Mahaska County, defended the pork industry in Iowa, which is responsible to the environment.
“We’ve made vast improvements in my lifetime,” Rozenboom said. “The system seems to be working pretty well.”
Sheets talked about the bill he drafted that addresses the disrepair of Iowa roads and bridges. To go along with “half a dozen other bills written to do the same thing.”
Sheets said the gas tax is a fixed number of pennies per gallon and it hasn’t changed in 25 years.
Sheets’ proposal is a “percentage tax” rather than a “fixed tax” on the before-tax cost of the fuel that would provided the same revenue as the fixed tax does now.
Sheets said as the price of gasoline goes up, so to does the amount of revenue the state would collect. Likewise, if the price drops, so to does the revenue.
Such a tax would correct for inflation and also stabilize fuel tax revenues, Sheets said.
Rozenboom said he is leaning toward a gas tax increase “because we can’t keep fighting about it while Iowa roads suffer.”
Something the audience didn’t talk about was Sheets’ comments at the start where he said he filed a bill to address convicted criminals being released early from prison, which was in response to what happened to Kathlynn Shepard. Sheets said the bill is intended to make sure convicted criminals do not get released early.
And the comments he made about raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which would cost Iowa between 5,000 and 16,000 jobs, according to a study released by the Employment Policies Institute.
And the comments he made about Obamacare and the Congressional Budget Office report that says 2.5 million full-time jobs will be lost because of reduced work hours.
Likewise for Rozenboom, who talked about the Emerald Ash Borer infestation, which is expected to kill more than 52 million Ash trees or the entire population in Iowa over the next 20 years.
“There is no practical way to control the dead trees the Emerald Ash Borer is going to do,” Rozenboom said. “It’s going to be a significant cost for municipalities that have used Ash trees for public areas.”
The Emerald Ash Borer has been found in six eastern Iowa counties.
And the bill to help low-income Iowans pay for the high cost of propane.
And comments he made on Webcam abortions.