Area News Stories
LEGISLATIVE FORUM TO BE HELD TUESDAY EVENING
KBOE Radio, in cooperation with the Oskaloosa Herald, CRI, and Osky News will be holding a legislative candidates forum for house district 80 candidates. House district 80 encompasses eastern Mahaska county as well as all of Monroe county, Northwest Wapello county, and all of Appanoose county.
Incumbent Republican Legislator Larry Sheets of Moravia along with Democrat Challenger Deb Ballatak of Albia and Independent Challenger Jared Godby of Moravia have all been invited to attend.
The event will begin at 7 pm and will be held at the ISU Extension Office on North I street in Oskaloosa.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES DOG PARK SITE PLAN
It was business as usual for the Oskaloosa City Council Monday evening. The council met in regular session with Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt presiding.
Among the items for the council’s consideration was the approval of a site plan for the Oskaloosa dog park project. The plan previously was considered by the Oskaloosa Planning and Zoning Commission and approved with the following stipulations: provide five directional signs to the dog park, provide two directional signs to restrooms from the dog park, provide a total of four benches for the park (two for each section), provide a total of four dog waste stations (two for each section), provide ADA accessibility to the dog park with ADA signage. Project coordinator RD Keep was on hand at the meeting Monday to answer questions for the council.
During discussion, Keep noted that the board directing the project wishes to delay the ADA portion of the project until no later than July 1, 2015. He said they are requesting this so they can secure more funding for the project. After little discussion, the council approved the site plan with the stipulations attached as well as a delay of the ADA accessibility until 2015 on a 7-0 vote.
In other action, the council:
• Approved a resolution levying special assessment against private property for weed cutting violations on a 7-0 vote
• Received a report from MCDG director Andrew Jensen on the state of the local economy
• Approved the first reading of an ordinance amending Oskaloosa municipal code relating to permit connection charges on a 7-0 vote
The next meeting of the Oskaloosa City Council will be on November 3rd at 6 pm in the city council chambers.
SUPERVISORS HEAR ROAD REPAIRS REPORT
The Mahaska County Board of
Supervisors met in regular session this morning. Among the items on the agenda
included a variety of secondary roads items as well as two closed sessions.
The board heard a report from
County Engineer Dave Shannahan on the current secondary roads construction
projects. Shannahan reported that his crews are currently working on 295th
street near Galeston Avenue. Shannhan said the crews are working on repairing
an old bridge. He said that the bridge should be opened up within a few weeks.
Shannahan also reported that
a road project near Taintor has been delayed. Crews hope to start on that
project is spring of next year. The project has been delayed by the contractor
due to summer rains tying up the contractor.
The board also held a closed
session to discussing an IT Coordinator hiring recommendation. After the
closed session, the board voted 3-0 to authorize supervisor Doland to
negotiate a contract with the unnamed candidate.
The board then went into
closed session to discuss litigation with RUSS (Regional Utility Support
System). The board has been in ongoing litigation with RUSS for several months
now. After the closed session, the board voted 3-0 to pay FY 201 membership
fees without penalty and to reappoint Supervisor Vander Molen to the RUSS
In other action, the board:
Approved the 1st quarter recorder’s office report.
Received a report from MCDG director Andrew Jensen on the state
of the local economy
Approved the targeted case management cost report for FY 2014
The next meeting of the
Mahaska County Board of Supervisors will be on November 3rd at 9 am
in the 3rd Floor Conference Room.
ROSE HILL RESIDENT CHARGED WITH MISAPPROPRIATING FUNDS
A former state employee has been charged in relation to an audit showing the alleged misappropriation of nearly $280,000. Jessica Strasser turned herself into state authorities at the Mahaska County Jail on Wednesday. She was booked into the jail and is being held on $25,000 bond.
According to trial information filed in Mahaska County District Court, Strasser is being charged with Theft in the First Degree and Ongoing Criminal Conduct. The theft charge is a Class C Felony while ongoing criminal conduct is a Class B felony.
An arraignment date has not been set.
On October 1st, the Auditor of State released a special audit on the operations of the Mahaska County Soil and Water Conservation District. The audit had been requested by officials with the Iowa Department of Agriculture due to concerns over the financial operations of the district.
The audit reported detailed what was identified as nearly $280,000 in improper disbursements and un-deposited collections. Disbursements included over $240,000 of cash withdrawn from the districts account. During the audit, it was found that Jessica Strasser’s name was on the many of the receipts for cash withdrawal. Strasser resigned as District Secretary on August 9th, one day after being suspended by the district.
The investigation was conducted by the Oskaloosa Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
PLANNING AND ZONING COMMISSION CONSIDERS DOG PARK PLANS
The proposed Oskaloosa Dog Park was dealt a setback as site plans for the park were tabled Monday evening 10/13 at a regular meeting of the Oskaloosa Planning and Commission. Proposals for the dog park call for it to be built on nearly 1.5 acres of land just south of the Edmundson swimming pool.
RD Keep, a planning and zoning commissioner who is also heading up the project, took the floor during Monday’s meeting to address concerns related to the project. One major concern expressed by commissioners was the proposed fence height for the dog park. According to site plans submitted, the park would be cordoned off into a section for large dogs and a section for small dogs. A four foot tall fence would also be placed around the park. Concerns were expressed that four feet would be too small of a fence for a dog park. Keep stated in response to these concerns that based on research done through the American Kennel Association as well as other communities with dog parks that four feet would be suitable for a fence height. He also mentioned that communities such as Iowa City and Ottumwa only have four foot high fences at their respective dog parks.
Commission members also discussed a request from the dog park committee to waive stipulations of rest rooms and drinking fountains being installed in the dog park. Keep stated that the waiver is being requested because it is not cost feasible for the committee to install restrooms and drinking fountains. He noted that a restroom installation alone could cost over $10,000. Keep also indicated that if required to put in the restrooms and water fountains, the committee would drop the project. The commission ultimately voted 6-0, with keep abstaining, to table the item. Commissioner Andrew Jansen said tabling the item would better allow commissioners as well as committee members to address their concerns with city staff. A special meeting will be called in the coming days to vote on the site plan.
In other action, the commission approve an alley vacation request at 1002 North 2nd Street. During discussion, no concerns were raised by commissioners and no members of the public spoke against the alley vacate request.
The commission also elected a new chair and vice chair. Current Commissioner Holden Barnhart was elected as Chair while new commissioner Pam Blomgren was elected Vice Chair.
WATER DEPARTMENT TO CONDUCT BI-ANNUAL FIRE HYDRANT FLUSHING
The Oskaloosa Water Department will be conducting our bi-annual hydrant flushing beginning Monday October 13, 2014. This will last approximately two weeks. You may notice low pressure and cloudy or discolored water. The water, even though discolored, will remain safe to drink. Please refrain from washing laundry if you notice this change in your water, as staining is possible. The water should clear up as crews continue flushing. Our crews will be moving throughout various areas of town during this period. You can check out our Facebook page for daily updates on where the crews will be working that day to help you stay better informed. The Water Department would like to take the time to thank all of our customers in advance for being patient with us as we complete this task.
WATER DEPARTMENT ASKING FOR CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
The Oskaloosa Water
Department is asking for public involvement on a survey they are conducting.
The Water Department is currently looking into the option of using online
bill payments for their customers and we would like feedback.
CITY COUNCIL TO RECONSIDER FRANCHISE FEE INCREASE
The Oskaloosa City Council rehashed previous items are their regular city council meeting Monday night. The council rehashed the issues of franchise fees, more specifically in raising them. At the September 15 city council meeting, the council voted 3-4 on the third reading not to raise the city’s franchise fees. Councilors Moore, Van Zetten, Ver Steeg, and Walling had voted against raising the franchise fees at that meeting.
Since that meeting, Council member Scottie Moore indicated that she would like to have the item brought back for reconsideration. Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt also indicated the same. The item on Monday’s agenda was merely to begin the process of reconsidering the franchise fees.
During discussion, councilor Aaron VerSteeg expressed concerns with the previously adopted revenue purpose statement pertaining to revenue from the franchise fees. Ver Steeg indicated he would like to have the term “economic development” removed the revenue purpose statement. City Manager Michael Schrock said that the revenue purpose statement would have to be reconsidered. Ultimately, the council voted 6-1 to reconsider raising the franchise fees. Councilor Jason Van Zetten voted against the item. As a result, at the next meeting, the city council will vote on scheduling a public hearing for November 3rd relating to raising the franchise fees. If that item passes, beginning on November 3rd, the council will have to pass three separate readings of the ordinance raising the franchise fees.
The council also voted to move forward with sidewalk improvements on Edmundson Drive. At the August 18 City council meeting, the council voted against a revised site plan for the Tuscany Village development which did not include a plan for sidewalks in front of the development. A council committee met on the matter and ultimately concluded that sidewalk improvements should be made. As a result, the council voted last night to approve a plan to place a sidewalk from the North Edge of the Tuscany Village sidewalks to the west entrance of the Edmundson Park. The estimated cost for the project will be around $13,000.
Prior to the regular meeting Monday, Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt swore in new police officer Branden Blanchard.
Blanchard is a William Penn University graduate who hails from Missouri. Blanchard began his duties as a police officer in September. He previously served as the community services officer from November 2013 through September.
SUPERVISORS CONSIDER ROOF REPAIRS
The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday morning. The board handled a variety of routine matters Monday morning for their first meeting of October.
The board first accepted quarterly reports from the Auditor, Veteran’s Affairs, and Sheriff’s departments. The board next approved a 28E Agreement between the town of Beacon for sheriff patrol duties.
The board also further discussed roof repairs for the courthouse roof. Repairs for the roof have been discussed since April, when a severe thunderstorm caused wind damage to tiles on the roof. Recently, a roof evaluation was completed on the roof and supervisors began to look at bids for repairs. The board ultimately approved a contract with Tarracon for the roof repair project.
The next meeting of the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors will be on October 20th at 9 am in the 3rd floor conference room.
MAHASKA COUNTY STATE OF THE ECONOMY RELEASED; NEW PLANNING INITIATIVE LAUNCHED
The Mahaska Community Development Group (MCDG) recently released a new report that brings to light many interesting trends and startling facts about Mahaska County. The report, entitled State of the Local Economy: A Baseline Analysis of Mahaska County’s Economy in 2014, is intended to provide information on local economic conditions to area leaders, residents, development organizations, and other community groups. One of the interesting findings is that Mahaska County has performed relatively well when evaluated against other similar communities across the state. The State of the Local Economy report can be found at www.teammahaska.org.
“Mahaska County continues to perform well compared to peer communities,” stated MCDG Executive Director, Andrew Jensen. “Most micropolitan communities across Iowa have seen a slow to moderate decline in population, while Mahaska County continues to slowly increase. Additionally, the manufacturing sector in the county has performed exceedingly well over the past five years,” he added. “In fact, the manufacturing sector not only provides approximately one in four jobs in the county, but has outperformed the state and the nation when it comes to job growth.”
Jensen also recognized many areas where the county needs to improve, which includes addressing workforce issues, providing more quality housing, and expanding the retail sector. “One of the largest current issues for the county is workforce. Employers are having a difficult time trying to find and recruit high quality employees, and this will only become more acute as the more people reach retirement,” Jensen added. “We have the jobs, but with low unemployment in the county and an aging workforce this will only become more pronounced.” The report notes that developing more housing and expanding retail options are related to the workforce issues, as they are important factors in being able to recruit new employees.
Along with identifying areas for improvement through the report, MCDG has helped launch a new strategic planning initiative, the Mahaska Development Partners, intended to provide a renewed focus on economic development and community growth. The Mahaska Development Partners was formed by leaders from several local organizations with responsibility for economic development, including MCDG, Oskaloosa Area Chamber and Development Group (OACDG), Mahaska County Agricultural and Rural Development (MCARD), Main Street Oskaloosa, City of Oskaloosa, and Mahaska County.
“These organizations have worked closely together for many years, but the leaders took it upon themselves to craft a new vision and strategy for the community,” said MCDG Chair, Beth Danowsky. “Forming the Mahaska Development Partners was the first step toward developing and eventually implementing the vision and strategy.”
The Mahaska Development Partners have actually been meeting for several months putting together the process by which these different organizations can coordinate their activities while working toward a common vision for the community. Through the process thus far, the Mahaska Development Partners have established roles and responsibilities; identified each organization’s assets and needs; and discussed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the community.
Community leaders have said that Mahaska County development organizations need to adapt their operational models to keep up with the quickening change of the world economy to which the local economy is increasingly intertwined. The outcome of this strategic planning process will be coordinated action plans for each development organization with a common vision for the community in mind.
Josh Buckingham, OACDG Chair and Main Street Oskaloosa President, added, “The timing of this strategic planning could not be better. This effort folds in nicely with the community branding and marketing effort led by Main Street with the assistance of the Roger Brooks International consulting team. We also have an opportunity to chart a new direction for the community with new leadership now onboard.” The new leadership Buckingham referred to includes the three new director appointments made within the last nine months: Andrew Jensen as MCDG Executive Director, Karen Hafner as Main Street Oskaloosa Director, and Valinn McReynolds as OACDG Director.
Along with these directors, MCARD Director, Deann DeGroot, has also been heavily involved in the planning process. “It is great to see leaders from these various organizations working closely together. I think the community is going to be well served by the outcomes, but the challenge will be implementation of the strategic plans.”
The next steps in this strategic planning process are to finalize community priorities and to develop the action plans based on those priorities. The community priorities, already in development, will be released in the coming weeks. To define the action plans, MCDG has contracted with the University of Northern Iowa’s (UNI) Institute for Decision Making (IDM) to facilitate the conversation. Drew Conrad, with UNI IDM, will be in Oskaloosa at the beginning of October and will work with MCDG through the end of the year.
Once action plans are complete, the idea is to gather all of the boards for the Mahaska Development Partner organizations for a joint meeting where each organization will roll out its action plan. This will allow each board to understand what the other organizations are doing to push toward the common community vision. Then, as DeGroot stated, the challenge turns toward implementation, which will involve a host of actions each targeted toward the community priorities.
AUDIT REVEALS OVER $280,000 IN MISSING FUNDS FROM MAHASKA COUNTY SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT
A special audit released by Auditor of State Mary Moisman has identified nearly $280,000 of improper disbursements and
un-deposited collections at the Mahaska County Soil and Water Conservation District.
The report identified over $37,000 of un-deposited collections which were redeemed for cash or cash withheld from checks being deposited. It cannot be determined if additional collections were not properly deposited because adequate records for receipts were not available, the report says.
Included in the report was a letter from Strasser in which Strasser says she takes responsibility for her actions.
A copy of the report has been filed with the Mahaska County Attorney’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the division of criminal investigation, and the US Department of Agriculture Officer of Inspector General. No criminal charges have been filed.
OSKALOOSA WOMAN CHARGED WITH NEGLECT OF DEPENDENT PERSON
Charges of neglect of a dependent person and OWI, 3rd offense have been filed against an Oskaloosa woman in regards to a weekend incident. 41 year old Julie Jones was arrested Friday evening, September 26, in Oskaloosa.
According to court documents, around 5:30 pm Friday evening, a caller advised the Mahaska County 911 Center that a vehicle was swerving over Highway 63 and driving on the gravel shoulder. Officers eventually stopped the vehicle in Oskaloosa. During the traffic stop, officers state that they could smell the odor of alcohol on Jones’ breath. Court documents also indicated that during filed sobriety tests, Jones showed signs of intoxication. Documents also indicated that her BAC was tested to be over .080%. During the traffic stop, officers noted that Jones’ 11 year old son was in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.
A preliminary hearing has been set for October 7th.
As always, a criminal charge is an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
THOMPSON APPOINTED MAHASKA COUNTY MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Amber Thompson was appointed Mahaska County attorney yesterday after a two hour meeting of the Mahaska County Magistrate Nominating Commission. The commission voted unanimously to appoint her to the position. Three candidates were interviewed; Amber Thompson of Sigourney, Diane Crookham-Johnson of Oskaloosa, and Misty White-Reinor of Pella. Each interview lasted for approximately 30 minutes.
During her interview, among other things, Thompson stated that she would like to improve courthouse security, more specifically in the Magistrate Courthouse Room. Thompson also said she believed she would be a good magistrate because she can see both sides of an arugment without any preconceived notions.
Thompson was sworn in Tuesday 9/23 at 9 AM. She will attend a class for newly appointed magistrate on October 2nd and 3rd.
Current Magistrate Scott Campbell will retire on October 1st. He has held the position since 1996.
OSKALOOSA SCHOOL BOARD DISCUSSES ASSESSMENTS
Oskaloosa School Board members met in special session Tuesday to discuss the comprehensive assessment with consultant Tony VanderZyl. The board met for about 90 minutes asking several pointed questions in evaluating the data released this past spring.
OSKALOOSA RIDES OFFERING FREE FRIDAY RIDES IN OCTOBER
Good news for those looking to get around town this October: Oskaloosa Rides is free of charge on Fridays next month.
Oskaloosa Rides, the new fixed-route bus service, began in July with a goal of meeting transportation needs. Hundreds of people in Oskaloosa don’t have regular access to a vehicle and can struggle to get to places offering healthcare, retail and human services.
“We have a long way to go in making it common place in Oskaloosa,” says Amy Langdon, director of the United Way of Mahaska County and Oskaloosa Rides organizer. “Using public transportation is not something everyone’s 100% comfortable doing just yet. But we’re hoping with Free Fridays and different promotions, we’ll be able to show people just how easy it is to use Oskaloosa Rides.”
The first step is just getting people through the bus door. Langdon says once they trust it to be convenient and reliable, more people will use it to meet their transportation needs.
Free Fridays will run in all five Fridays in October.
MAHASKA COUNTY GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATE LISTING
Parties jockeying for early vote in Iowa, Florida
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — More than 2.3 million voters have already cast ballots for the November midterm elections, and both Republicans and Democrats are claiming the early voting numbers work to their advantage.
Florida continues to dominate early returns, with more than 891,000 votes cast by late last week. A contentious governor's race tops the ballot in that state.
Registered Republicans have cast almost half of the early votes. Republicans say their lead proves momentum for Gov. Rick Scott, who trails Democratic challenger Charlie Crist in many polls.
In Iowa, where a Senate race will help determine which party controls the chamber in January, Democrats hold a narrow lead out of almost 200,000 ballots cast.
But Republicans say they're making a more concerted early voting effort than in past elections.