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Govt-and-politics
Fire safety debated at Cedar Falls forum

CEDAR FALLS — Fire protection was one of the key issues raised at a city candidate forum Tuesday night at City Hall.

Candidates for mayor and City Council in the Nov. 7 election offered their views on the relative merits of the city’s current system of supplementing full-time firefighters with cross-trained public safety officers and paid-on-call city staff.

A question posed by a member of the audience — which included several City Council members not up for re-election this year — asserted the city has “the highest number of trained fire personnel in Cedar Falls history,” totaling the number of career firefighters, public safety officers and paid on-call staff.

Mayoral candidate Jim Skaine disagreed.

“It’s a false statement! It’s a lie!” Skaine proclaimed. “I’ve heard two very carefully documented presentations at the last two council meetings that demonstrate it’s a lie.”

He was referring to a presentation by retired Assistant Fire Chief Bill Bell that indicated the number of full-time firefighters has been reduced, and public safety officers are not the answer.

It’s an example of where the City Council has rendered city services “unsafe and unreliable,” Skaine said.

Incumbent Mayor Jim Brown, however, said the cross-trained public safety officers “typically have been first on the scene,” equipped to quickly extinguish or suppress fires until full-time firefighters arrive.

“Now at that scene instead of having six, or seven or eight firefighters, career, now we actually have at these fires 12 to 14 firefighters” Brown said. “These career folks will still be dictating, still be letting folks know, where to go and what to do in a situation.”

The City Council is “finding the balance between having the safety of our citizens high, high on their list and the cost effectiveness of that,” Brown said. “It’s a good idea, especially with the upcoming public safety building we’re also building south of town.”

Bell has said the city had 38 full-time firefighters 30 years ago and has 27 now, while the city has grown significantly. However, in a recent presentation to the City Council, Public Safety Director Jeff Olson noted adding public safety officers the city has a total firefighting force of 52.

Among the three at-large council candidates, LeaAnn Saul said 15 full-time firefighters would cost the city upwards of an additional $1.8 million a year. “I think the PSO model works,” she said. “There might be some middle ground here. There’s room for compromise, and we should explore it.”

Candidate Rob Green said, “I just can’t come across to believe that PSOs are a 1-1 replacement for a career firefighter.” He also questioned the rationale of equating public safety with cost savings since going to a volunteer fire department would save money as well.

At-large candidate Erin Cornelius favored hiring full-time firefighters to bring the city up to National Fire Protection Association standards. “I don’t believe that PSOs replace firefighters. Period. It’s patently untrue that we have more full-time firefighters than we did previously.”

Incumbent Third Ward council member John Runchey said PSOs and paid on-call staff are trained and certified to “the exact same level as the full-time firefighters.”

He added, “I understand the firefighters are unhappy with this type of arrangement. But it’s the truth. And it really saves the city a great deal of money.” Many calls PSOs handle “are a car fire or something that can be handled without having to bring the entire department. So it makes perfect sense, in my opinion. And it’s very cost effective.”

Runchey’s opponent, Daryl Kruse, said he’d like to find out what specific concerns anyone has about inadequate fire protection. “For example, if there was a deficient effort in fighting a fire, what could have been done better? I would dig into the details. On the surface, John is explaining really well what’s there. But people must feel there’s a shortage, and I’d like to know.”

The Black Hawk-Bremer League of Women Voters sponsored the forum.


UPDATE: Cedar Valley veterans in D.C. today for Honor Flight

WATERLOO — Mike Luck of New Hartford was reunited with some friends from the service Tuesday.

The last time he saw them was in Vietnam in 1969. In an ambush. He survived. They didn’t.

They’re on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — “The Wall” — in Washington, D.C. Luck visited as one of more than 100 veterans who traveled to the nation’s capital on a Cedar Valley Honor Flight from the Waterloo Regional Airport.

Most were Vietnam veterans. For Luck and many others, the Vietnam memorial was the most emotional.

“It’s wonderful. It’s a great thing they do for everybody. But at the same time, it brings back those old memories,” Luck said, standing at the Vietnam wall. “I’ve got six guys for sure that I know. I just found three of them on The Wall. They died, and I came close to it. When you see how close you came to being on that wall after all these years, you still have those memories.

“In my situation there were 12 of us,” on patrol. “We got ambushed. Everyone was wounded. Six died. ... I was shot twice, and I have a helicopter crew I owe my life to. They disobeyed orders and came down and picked us up anyway and took me to a hospital in Saigon. The nurses and doctor saved my life.

“I’m standing here with my son,” Luck said. “He said ‘You were just that close to being on that wall.’ He wouldn’t have been here either. It’s pretty emotional.”

Roger Schoonover of Waterloo, like Luck an Army veteran of Vietnam, said, “I was very hesitant to walk down the pathway to the actual wall. It brings back some good memories and a lot of bad ones. I brought my son this time and let him receive some of the pride that this wall brings out in people. It’s a healing wall. It was very touching.”

He recognized many names. “Some were in my class and about 130 of them here served in my unit that died in a three-year span.” He served in the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Division in Vietnam from 1966-67.

“We just took a picture where Dave Paulsen’s name was,” Schoonover said. Paulsen, a fellow 1965 graduate of West High School, was a Marine killed in Vietnam in November 1966.

It was his second trip to The Wall, which bears the names of 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam.

“I knew quite a few whose names were on the wall, a few I was in school with,” said Vietnam veteran David Weinberg, formerly of Plainfield and now of Shell Rock. “It’s impressive and depressive, if that’s a word. So many names.

“It’s been a good day,” Weinberg said. “Some guys I didn’t know before, I got to talk to them. The Washington Monument was real impressive.”

‘It’s a wonderful day and a wonderful trip,” said Don Krull, a Korean War era veteran from Parkersburg. “Washington is quite the place. It’s just amazing. Everyone is so kind and generous.”

“It’s very touching, very sentimental,” said Vietnam veteran Jim Mohlis of Oelwein. “I recommend all vets do this that have been overseas. It’s a very, very important day.”

Later Tuesday, after visiting the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, the vets visited Arlington National Cemetery, saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony.

A homecoming celebration welcomed the veterans back to the Waterloo airport at about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

It was the third and final Cedar Valley Honor Flight of 2017. More than 1,300 veterans have made the flights since they began in 2011. Initially the flights were limited to World War II veterans but eligibility was later expanded through the Vietnam era.

Veterans from Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Grundy and the northern half of Tama counties are eligible.

Applications can be picked up at any of the Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Waverly Hy-Vee Stores or by going to the organization’s website, www.cedarvalleyhonorflights.org, or the Cedar Valley Honor Flight’s Facebook page. Donations are being accepted to continue the flights.


Education
Waterloo Schools' enrollment on the rise

Lindaman

WATERLOO — After a two-year decline, enrollment is rising again in Waterloo Community Schools.

“Our enrollment is up about 50 kids,” Superintendent Jane Lindaman told the Board of Education on Monday. Based on the Oct. 2 official count, the district has 10,405 students this year.

That is 48 more students than the 10,357 enrollment from last year’s count.

Officials expect enrollment to increase by about the same amount when the actual number of students attending classes is adjusted to arrive at the budget enrollment. The adjusted number will be used to determine per-pupil state funding for the district during the 2018-19 school year.

Although some changes could still occur before numbers are certified with the state Oct. 15, Lindaman said that increase currently stands at 49.38 pupils. The decimal point accounts for students who are not full-time, such as home-schooled children taking a class through the district. Last year’s budget enrollment was 10,833.75.

“We’re happy to see that our enrollment is up, not only actual but also certified,” said Lindaman.

Among the numerous adjustments to the actual number of students, the single largest in Waterloo’s case is open enrollment out of the district, which totaled more than 300 students last year. That number is counted in the budget enrollment, but the funds it generates “pass through” Waterloo to the district where those students attend. Students who open enroll into the district are subtracted from the count and the funds come to Waterloo Schools.

The detailed breakdown of the budget enrollment won’t be available until after the information is submitted to the state.

In other business, the board received and filed Lindaman’s recommendation to terminate a teacher contract. The action “is a step in the process” the district needs to go through to fire a teacher and had to happen within 15 days of her recommendation.

The teacher can now request a hearing before the board, which has to happen 20 to 40 days after Monday’s meeting. The matter will return to the board for a final decision whether or not a hearing is requested. At that point, the teacher’s name would become public.


Education
Regents delay tuition talk, plan to hire director at next meeting

CEDAR FALLS — The Iowa Board of Regents does not want to raise tuition more than once for next year. But coming up with the “right number” is taking longer than expected.

Regents will meet Oct. 18 and 19 at the University of Northern Iowa, but a planned unveiling of tuition rates has been scrapped.

Regents President Michael Richards said in a statement Tuesday the board needs more time.

“It is imperative we set tuition at an appropriate amount. The tuition task force meetings held this past summer gave the board great information and feedback from a wide variety of constituents. One of the key messages we heard is that students and families do not want multiple increases during the year,” reads the statement. “We agree with this, and we will not revisit 2018-19 tuition levels once they have been established.”

Richards said there is no timetable for a first reading of proposed tuition rates, but it will be done as soon as there is a proposal “with which we are comfortable.”

In September, Richards said he didn’t have an inkling of what tuition rates will be, but it will be the “right number” to avoid a second increase in the same year.

When the board later met to set its budget requests for the Legislature, it did not ask for an increase to the three public universities’ general funds but rather a $12 million increase — including $2 million for UNI and $5 million each for Iowa State University and University of Iowa — for needs-based student financial aid.

The university presidents said during those task force meetings if state aid is not increased, they will need tuition increases near 7 percent. The financial aid proposal could offset some of that if lawmakers agree to the request during the 2018 session.

While tuition is off the table at the October meeting, there will still be plenty to discuss. On Oct. 18, the board will interview Mark Braun, the sole candidate for the regents’ executive director position, and could announce its selection the next day.

Braun currently serves as the regents’ chief operating officer.

Previous executive director Robert Donley announced his departure in June.

The board also will hear strategic plan updates from the universities.

To live stream the October meeting, or for details, go to http://www.iowaregents.edu/.