Category: Simply Put

Simply Put – July 12, 2017

The Fourth, Fireworks and FacebookThe Fourth, Fireworks and Facebook
Iowa legislators certainly did no favors to cities throughout the state with the quick turnaround time associated with the new fireworks law. Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who helped guide the bill to passage in the Senate said, “We’re eliminating an 80-year ban that’s been put in place and Iowans are now going to be able to celebrate the Fourth of July just like many other American citizens across the country are able to celebrate by using fireworks.  When then Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed the bill into law on May 9, municipalities had just a few weeks to determine where they would allow the sale of fireworks to take place during the legally established sales period that ran from June 1 to July 8. 
During those 38 days, tents sprouted up in Iowa cities large and small throughout the state, much like early corn plants enjoying the warm and humid weather of early summer. These “temporary structures” were a source of conundrum for cities because tents where fireworks are sold are not subject to certain building codes, such as fire supression measures, that are required for the licensed retailers selling from a permanent structure. Imagine if a fire broke out in downtown La Porte City. Because of their close proximity, the consequences could be devastating for neighboring businesses and buildings. 
It’s no surprise selling from a tent quickly became the preferred option for fireworks retailers. They could avoid expenses associated with meeting the more stringent building codes required of permanent buildings by waiting just three days, June 13, as opposed to June 10, to sell from temporary locations.
Commercial grade fireworks can be a source of great stress for individuals suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, as well as pets, whose hearing can be more sensitive than their human owners. Unfortunately, complaints during the recently concluded summer fireworks season were not limited to just those special populations. The most common fireworks complaints related to when and where they were being set off. 
Over the past three weeks, users of social media could find a myriad of references related to fireworks. Whether in favor of pyrotechnics or against, common sense would dictate that the simple act of respecting where and when fireworks are used would eliminate many of the conflicts reported. Yes, it’s legal to shoot off fireworks on your property. When said fireworks land on someone else’s property, though, cleaning up the resulting mess is the only right thing to do. 
There’s no doubt that ripping off a good rant on one of the many social media platforms can feel refreshingly good at times. Just know that those complaints are not likely to be seen or responded to by local authorities. It’s not their job to monitor social media posts made by local citizens. “The City” isn’t friends with anyone on Facebook. It doesn’t follow anyone on Twitter, nor does it send out or receive photos on Instagram. In La Porte City, seeking a response from Public Safety or City Hall requires a willingness to identify yourself when contacting authorities so the complaint can be properly investigated.
Now that the 4th of July has come and gone, expect the fireworks controversy to begin to fade. If you haven’t already, though, mark your calendar for Sunday, December 24. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator, fireworks will be back for another limited run.

Simply Put – April 19, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
When a controversial issue or significant event occurs, sometimes it is difficult for those closest to it to step back and look at the bigger picture.
Consider the Cedar Valley Nature Trail bridge that crosses Wolf Creek in La Porte City. The bridge was closed in September 2015, blocking the path trail users take on their way to and from Gilbertville.
As an avid user and supporter of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, let me be clear: the sooner access can be restored to the trail, the better. In a perfect world, open access to the trail would never be threatened by aging infrastructure and the ongoing demands of regular trail maintenance.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
What once was a new recreational trail system in 1984, now offers evidence that portions of the pathway have not been aging gracefully over the past 30 years.
It would be easy to look outside our community for a solution to the problem. True, it’s not our bridge. The responsibility for maintaining it falls under Black Hawk County jurisdiction.
“So let them pay for it,” some might say. A most excellent suggestion, if it were only that easy. Where should the County go to get this funding? Not from the Conservation budget, which is limited to $25,000 annually for trail maintenance. Not from the Board of Supervisors, whose only likely commitment will be $77,000 for an engineering study. Not from the state either, as hope for bridge funding has plummeted, much like state revenue estimates. How about the Black Hawk County Gaming Association? Nope, they’ve already pledged more than a million dollars to County Conservation for the long overdue upgrades to the Hartman Nature Center.
Taking a step back from the trees reveals the forest of complications the Conservation Board must navigate to restore the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. First, it’s important to remember that recreational trails are not essential services. When lots are drawn for who gets funded by the taxpayers, Conservation, by default, often gets a shorter stick.
Second, when it comes to fixing trail bridges, La Porte City’s bridge is one of nine along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in need of some type of repair. Clearly, without a consistent funding mechanism in place, maintenance of recreational trails in the county will continue to be rough going, as Conservation officials are seemingly in a constant scramble to find the money for needed repairs.
Recently, Vern Fish, former Executive Director of County Conservation, wrote a guest editorial for the Waterloo Courier. In it, he wrote about the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, created in 2010 when Iowa voters showed their support for it by a nearly 63% majority.
Haven’t heard of the Trust? That’s because its funding is dependent upon an increase in the state’s sales tax. The next time the sales tax is raised, the first three-eighths of one cent, by law, goes to fund the Trust. For the past seven years, the Trust, which would help pay for soil and water conservation, watershed protection, trails, lake restoration and more, has sat empty, awaiting the legislative action needed to fund it.
This year, legislation has been introduced that would raise the sales tax one-eighth of a cent each year for three years to begin funding the Trust. The increase in sales tax would be offset by an identical reduction of income taxes, minimizing the tax burden on Iowans. For more information about the Trust, logon to
In the meantime, when it comes to open access on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, who will speak for La Porte City? If $600,000 is too much to pay for realigning the trail around the defective bridge, the initial plan developed by County Conservation and subsequently criticized by a group of trail enthusiasts based in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, where is the $1.5 – $2.5 million needed to repair the bridge going to be found? In the words of Vern Fish, “It is time to ‘Fund the Trust’ and fulfill the mandate that the citizens of Iowa approved in 2010.”
On the other hand, area residents who believe it’s strictly the county’s problem to solve should be prepared to wait several years for something to happen.

Simply Put – March 8, 2017

In a recently released report, US News & World Report has identified and ranked the nation’s best states. Founded in 1933 as a weekly news magazine, the publication shifted to publishing primarily online in 2010 and is known for its annual rankings of hospitals and colleges and universities. Using data compiled by the global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, US News & World Report ranked each state in the following broad categories: Health Care Quality, Education, Crime and Corrections, Infrastructure, Opportunity, Economy and Government. In all, 68 separate metrics were evaluated and compiled. Care to take a guess at where Iowa placed in the overall rankings?
If you said sixth overall out of 50 states, give yourself a pat on the back. Only Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington, states one through five on the list, topped the Hawkeye State. Iowa’s rankings in each of the seven areas is summarized in the following chart:

What kind of data was used to rank each state? US News & World Report says the data used comes from reliable governmental and private sources, and the weight assigned to each category was based on a survey that McKinsey conducted about what matters most to people. At this time, the two areas identified as most important to Americans are health care and education.
According to McKinsey’s Andre Dua, “What we’ve helped do is collect a wide range of data – a lot of data from publicly available sources. But we’ve also created our own proprietary data, particularly into how citizens view the performance of governments.”
Why should we care about state rankings? Beyond bragging rights, why should we care how Iowa compares to the rest of the nation? Managing Editor, Brian Kelly, said, “Viewed as a whole, a news analysis and rankings platform is designed to inform engaged citizens, business leaders and policymakers alike about what’s working and what needs improvement across the country.”
Assistant Managing Editor, Mark Silva, added, “In a union such as this, each state has something to learn from the others. Some have better health care, some better education, some more economic opportunity for their citizenry. Drawing any comparisons should be more than a matter of bragging rights. It requires clear-eyed measures to make real judgments.”
When it comes to solving the challenges that face society, be it at a local, state or national level, we can only hope that those entrusted with the responsibility of making policy will do so with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others.

Simply Put – February 8, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
In the coming days, the City Council of La Porte City will put the finishing touches on a proposed budget for FY18, which covers the period of time from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. The timeline for completing next year’s budget includes a public hearing that must be conducted before the budget is formally adopted. By law, the City’s FY18 budget must be adopted by March 15.
The City receives revenue from more sources than the average citizen might think. The one that matters most to taxpayers, though, is the levy rate, the number that helps determine the amount of taxes each property owner will be assessed.
Much has been made of the fact that La Porte City’s property tax levy is the second highest rate among eight communities in Black Hawk County. For the current fiscal year, La Porte City’s levy rate of 14.99574 is surpassed only by Waterloo’s 17.60522. What do these numbers mean? In La Porte City, property owners pay just under $15 for every $1,000 of property they own. That figure is cut roughly in half when the state’s tax rollback percentage is factored in. So in 2017, the owner of a $100,000 home in La Porte City was assessed around $750 in taxes to support the services the City provides its residents.
If you only consider levy rate as the primary indicator of tax burden, some might say La Porte City’s number is high enough to send Chicken Little off in search of the King. Fortunately, the personal property tax sky is not falling in La Porte City, because levy rate alone does not tell the whole story. There is another number that is far more important, one that completes the personal property tax equation. That number is taxable valuation, which is the overall value of a property multiplied by the state rollback for that property class.
The City of Hudson, nearly identical in population to La Porte City, serves as an excellent example of the importance of property value. With a levy rate of 11.51359, nearly $3.50 less than La Porte City, it stands to reason that Hudson taxpayers pay considerably less in city taxes than their LPC counterparts, right?
Wrong. They will actually pay $195,000 more in total city taxes than property owners in La Porte City. How is this possible? The City of Hudson’s taxable valuation is nearly $98 million, considerably more than La Porte City’s $62 million. In the words of an eight year old: “They got more stuff.”
The same is true in Jesup, another comparably sized community in Black Hawk County. Despite a slightly lower tax rate, property owners there will pay $375,000 more in city taxes than their La Porte City neighbors. When measured on a per capita basis, that translates to an additional $148 for every man, woman and child living in the City of Jesup.
From the perspective of an individual taxpayer, a lower assessed property value is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, when the Tax Man cometh, lower values mean he will take lesseth of your paycheck. Lower assessed values, though, present a very real challenge for city government because they limit the number of dollars that can be generated by a taxing body. Growing communities like Hudson and Jesup have the luxury of setting a lower tax rate because they have significantly higher property values. Slower growing communities, like La Porte City, must operate more efficiently in order to keep property taxes from spiraling up and out of control.
Where glass half empty folks see La Porte City’s taxes as too high (one of the highest levy rates in the county), glass half full people admire the excellent work done by elected officials and city employees to make services such as 24/7 police protection, a top-notch fire rescue and ambulance crew, along with a host of recreational opportunities for young and old alike, available at a per-capita cost that ranks fourth lowest in the county despite ranking next to last in per-capita property value.
Each year, the City Council faces the challenge of providing and maintaining services while trying to hold the line on property taxes. It’s a process that usually results in a few proverbial acorns falling from the sky. The trick is to make sure the sky doesn’t fall with them.

Simply Put – January 18, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
When it comes to elections involving city government and the local school district, recent history has shown that La Porte City, like many small communities throughout the state, has had a limited number of candidates from which to choose. In the 2015 school board election, four open seats on the seven member Union Community School District Board of Directors were filled. Of those, voters had just five candidates to consider, leaving three of the four races uncontested. That same year saw just three candidates run for election on the La Porte City City Council. With three seats available, voters were again left without a choice. Each candidate ran unopposed.
Last week, announcement was made that a special election will be held in La Porte City on February 7. The election will give voters the opportunity to select the person who will complete the remainder of David Williams’ term on the City Council, which expires on December 31, 2020. You may recall that Williams resigned his seat last month prior to his move out of state.
In situations like this one, the Code of Iowa gives local government a couple of options to fill a vacant seat. The four remaining members of the LPC City Council could have filled the vacancy by way of temporary appointment, or called for a special election to let the voters make the final decision. Regardless the action taken by the Council, the matter would have eventually come before the voters anyway, as state law dictates that temporary appointments are only valid only until the next regularly scheduled municipal election, November 2017 in La Porte City’s case. Should voters not wish to wait until the next election rolls around, the law allows them to request a special election by way of petition.
At a special meeting on January 29, the LPC City Council met to address the issue of the vacant Council seat. Their task, however, was no simple one, as three candidates, Jasmine Gaston, Stuart Grote and Chad Van Dyke, submitted letters indicating their desire to serve. With one seat to fill, the Council had something not seen at the last municipal election- an abundance of candidates.
Had just a single candidate come forward, the decision to appoint would have been an easy one. Following a brief question and answer period where Council members had the opportunity to address each of the candidates, the decision to appoint Chad Van Dyke was made on a 3-1 vote. Five days later, voters filed a petition to call for a special election. As this edition of The Progress Review went to press, the names of the candidates running for election were not yet available.
The announcement of the upcoming election has portions of the community buzzing, and that’s a good thing. Nearly every decision made by a governing body opens the door for scrutiny and criticism. In this case, the City Council was faced with the unenviable task of choosing someone when, for the first time in years, there was more than one candidate to consider. Imagine how difficult it would be to choose one of your fellow citizens to represent you with little more than a letter of introduction and a 15 minute Q&A session. No small task, indeed.
Given the level of interest in serving on the City Council at this time, it is appropriate that the voters of La Porte City decide who should represent them.
The County Auditor’s estimate of $2,500 to conduct a special election is a small price to pay to ensure that every La Porte City voter has an opportunity to cast their vote. The candidates who have come forward and expressed a desire to serve the community should be commended for their efforts. They give the citizens of La Porte City a choice to make for who they believe will best represent their interests over the next three years.
In so many ways, the upcoming special election is a sign that our community is alive and well. Casting your vote on February 7 is the best way to prove it.


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    Friday, December 15 2017

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    Friday, December 15 2017 @ 8:30 AM - 9:30 AM
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