The committee making recommendations to the board of supervisors on how to spend its $7.22 million in federal stimulus money convened for the final time on Sept. 7 and requested county conservation get $1.25 million, and that the remaining balance go towards engineer’s office expenditures.
Chris Herbold, one of the citizens appointed to the county ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) committee, made the motion to allot conservation $450,000 for bike trail repairs, $400,000 for the environmental education center project and $400,000 for the campgrounds of Mariposa Park.
“There are matching funds available on the nature center and research park that we want to establish out east of (the sheriff’s office),” Herbold said, noting the center would celebrate all things nature, conservation and agriculture. “And the remainder would go to pay off whatever we can on the secondary roads office.”
The motion passed in an 8-1 vote. Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma provided the only dissenting vote. The recommendation will be brought to the board of supervisors during an upcoming meeting, at which point it will be up to those three elected officials to decide the outcome of the committee’s request.
Keri Van Zante, director of Jasper County Conservation, later told Newton News if this recommendation was approved by the board of supervisors, it would be like “nothing we’ve ever seen before.” Typically, conservation’s way of building things is through years of grant writing, trying to meet goals piece by piece.
“To have a big portion gifted to us, I mean this is a gift to Jasper County and to be able to use this for something that would be here for our generation and generations to come, it’s just really exciting,” Van Zante said. “It’s almost overwhelming to think that it could actually happen.”
ARPA FUNDING COULD SPEED UP CONSERVATION PROJECTS
Fundraising for the environmental education center has been an ongoing effort. So far conservation has raised about $900,000 for the project, which Van Zante said could be divided into three phases: the center itself, a maintenance facility and a special outdoor area for events and educational opportunities.
Supervisors have reserved the park across the road from the old county care facility, which is close to the sheriff’s office. Van Zante said there is about 40 acres for conservation to develop. Trails, a bridge and two ponds are already established at the location, along with a restored shelter house.
Issues with the Chichaqua Valley Trail have become more apparent, prompting the need for repairs. Van Zante continues to get calls from people asking her department to address the damages at a specific area from 108th Street to Indian Creek Bridge outside Mingo. The trail in that spot is splitting open.
Although conservation put new asphalt down on the surface a few years ago, it began cracking open again. In the spring, conservation hired a company to drill a hole in the rail bed that the trail is built upon in order to find out what is going on with the base. The repaired section will have to be made from concrete.
Mariposa Park has a primitive campground that has been in there for years. But Van Zante said conservation has a new campground project primarily funded through grants. The campgrounds would be called Bison Ridge and would include a shower house, utilities, a dump station and about 10 sites to start with.
“This money would make it so we can add more sites and potentially even a couple of cabins to that development area,” Van Zante said. “If we knew we were going to get additional money to put more campsites and potentially a couple cabins or yurts in there, I mean it’s something that has been on the to-do list.”
REMAINING ARPA FUNDS LEAVES ROOM FOR ENGINEER’S OFFICE
In the past, the board of supervisors approved a total of $150,000 of its ARPA funds for storage racks at the health department, emergency radios and donations to the American Legion Post 111, the Des Moines Astronomical Society and the Jasper County Fair Board.
Afterwards, the board of supervisors agreed to set aside $2 million for the additional coverage to Jasper County’s advanced life support (ALS) services program. The enhancement does not take away EMS services from other communities, but merely intended to improve response times for emergencies.
Supervisors acknowledged it may take more money to establish an enhanced ALS program. Coupled with the $1.25 million requested for conservation, the county would have $3.82 million left for engineer’s office projects, provided the enhanced ALS services does not need more funds dedicated to it.
Thad Nearmyer, who is also a citizen appointed to the ARPA committee, was not able to attend the meeting or cast a vote, but he advocated for projects that would not increase the tax levy or create a levy. He also said if the engineer’s office projects are a true need, he would like every dollar applied to that office.
Talsma provided information to the ARPA committee about the engineer’s office proposal for a new shop building, noting it would be quite an expensive feat. Even if all the ARPA funding was dedicated to the project, it wouldn’t cover all costs. Jasper County Engineer Michael Frietsch broke it down into three phases:
• Phase 1: Site work, preparations, utilities and other infrastructure for $2 million.
• Phase 2: The shop building and fueling area for more than $5.2 million.
• Phase 3: Construct offices onto new shop building for more than $1.6 million.
TALSMA CONCERNED WITH NATURE CENTER, ENGINEER SHOP
While it may seem simple — especially for farmers — to create a simple shop building, it gets a bit complicated. Talsma said since it is for a government entity it has to meet certain standards and come equipped with a number of features. Which means it will inevitably cost more than a civilian shop building.
It also means the county will have to find another way to fully pay for the project.
“We’re kind of in this middle ground of we’ve almost been able to finance Phases 1 and 2 but we can’t quite finance Phases 1 and 2, which then means we’re going to have to do a bond referendum, put it out to a vote to the people and increase the debt service levy to finish building Phase 2 and 3,” Talsma said.
Even though Talsma voted against the motion, he is not necessarily opposed to the conservation projects. He did, however, voice against the nature center, particularly the maintenance costs. Herbold is unsure of the costs to maintain the building, but some of the project costs are for short-term maintenance.
“I’m sure it will be a continuing fundraising thing,” Herbold said. “Our auctions and stuff raise a lot of money, and that’s where we’re probably going to have to get it to maintain … There is a lot of experimental stuff like geothermal and solar that are kind of built in to that cost.”
Herbold said he looked at his motion as an opportunity to bring in people and positive things to the county. The agricultural research that will be conducted at the nature center, he suggested, will be valuable. The $400,000 for the nature center won’t finish the project, but it will put it above a threshold for more grants.
At which point the project could be fully funded.
MOTION MOVES FORWARD, ARPA COMMITEE DISBANDS
Coupled with Van Zante’s skills as a grant writer, Herbold said ARPA money from the governor could be enough to finish the environmental education center. Altogether, conservation has raised about $835,000 in private donations for the project, Herbold said. The project is estimated to cost $2 million.
“The governor has ARPA money where you can apply for a grant, but you have to have 60 percent of your money secured,” Herbold said. “That is where the $400,000 comes from. That will put us at 60 percent and very highly likely to be able to get the grant for the rest of the project.”
Van Zante hopes the supervisors will be in favor of the recommendation. Getting a large financial boost would speed up a number of projects that her staff have been wanting to address for some time.
“I would hope that with the ARPA committee — a supervisors-appointed board of constituents — that the board of supervisors will follow their recommendations on how to use the funding,” Van Zante said. “And sooner than later.”
Before the ARPA committee finished its meeting, Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop made a motion to disassemble. The motion passed unanimously, putting an end to the 11-person committee created by the board of supervisors in an effort to maintain transparency when delegating the federal stimulus dollars.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or firstname.lastname@example.org