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Supervisors' concern over Country View grows


WATERLOO — Mounting losses at the Country View nursing home are taking a toll on Black Hawk County’s elected officials.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors vented their frustration during an hour-long work session Tuesday to discuss finances at the county-run facility now on pace to lose more than $2.2 million this fiscal year.

“This is painful,” said Supervisor Linda Laylin. “It’s not something I want to do every year.”

Country View budget losses compound

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County officials have bailed out the financially strapped Country View care center for the second time in three months.

Board members are struggling to balance the moral issue of maintaining a home for nearly 140 frail elderly and intellectually disabled residents against the property tax dollars being spent to subsidize a service the county is not legally obligated to provide.

“We certainly have a responsibility to the residents and the employees, but we also have to keep in mind our responsibility to the taxpayers,” Laylin said. “Had we been a private business, we’d be out of business.

“We’ve just been very fortunate to have taxpayer dollars; that’s why we’ve been able to sustain as long as we have,” she added. “I’m not comfortable with the argument that we just tax for it. We have to be very aggressive in how we reduce those losses.”

Supervisor Craig White bristled at the idea any Country View residents would be displaced and sent to other facilities where he believes they would struggle.

“I think we have a responsibility as human beings to try to take care of these people,” White said. “We spend millions and millions of dollars at our (jail) across the street, and I don’t hear taxpayers yelling holy hell about what we spend over at the jail.”

Country View staff say the facility’s financial woes are largely due to having residents with higher rates of psychiatric issues than other nursing homes, staffing issues and having nearly all of the residents covered under the federal Medicaid program.

Medicaid reimburses Country View for about 80 percent of its actual costs. Meanwhile, there’s been a push at the federal and state level to reduce Medicaid costs even further.

“Is it the obligation of Black Hawk County taxpayers to pick up those costs?” asked board chairman Frank Magsamen, who said the supervisors have been getting very little public input on the Country View issue.

Only two of Iowa’s 99 counties — Black Hawk and Dubuque — still own nursing homes and subsidize them with property tax dollars.

Dubuque County Supervisor Jay Wickham, who attended the Black Hawk County supervisors’ work session, said his board is using a $1 million hospital tax levy and another $500,000 in general fund tax revenue this year to support its Sunnycrest Manor nursing home.

Wickham said he believes Dubuque County taxpayers support that decision.

Black Hawk County Supervisor Tom Little said it’s time for the board to make a decision on whether it will continue to subsidize Country View or go another direction.

“I don’t want to approve any more (cash) transfers unless we have a plan in place,” Little said. “That plan could be pay for it, everything. That’s fine, but we’re spinning our wheels when we do that.

“There’s so many multiple problems, and I don’t think we can fix them all,” he added. “I don’t know if we can sustain that cash flow out there.”

Country View staff has said publicity the facility’s uncertain future has been upsetting to residents and makes it harder to fill vacant staff positions.

“Being in the papers frequently makes it difficult to attract good staff,” said Country View Administrator Dennis Coleman.

Board members took no votes Tuesday but are asking a consulting firm to develop a plan for the optimal number of residents Country View should have to maintain its best cash flow.

Goblins, ghosts and ghouls swarm Parkade

CEDAR FALLS — The Phantom of the Parkade, also known as John Luzaich, longtime general manager of the Oster-Regent Theatre, traipsed around the building’s marquee as hundreds of goblins, ghosts and ghouls lined both sides of Main Street on Tuesday afternoon.

“They want him, this is phantom of the opera,” said Julie King, assistant general manager, pointing to the masked man as music blared from the speakers.

Luzaich has been performing for about 20 years at the annual Trick or Treat Downtown event in Cedar Falls, according to King.

The event, hosted by Community Main Street, predates the Cedar Falls organization. It has been running for 30 years.

“It’s really a give-back-to-the-community type of event,” said Carol Lilly, executive director of Community Main Street. “It’s a thank you to the community for coming out and supporting downtown the rest of the year. It’s all a part of just loving your community, and it’s a good way to make memories downtown and for kids to feel connected to the community.”

Lilly and other organizers suggest the merchants of Main Street get 1,200-1,500 pieces of candy for the event. “And sometimes we run out, so that’s kind of our judge on numbers,” Lilly said. “We really didn’t know how busy we’d be tonight because it’s been so nice the last few years. We’re really pleased with the turnout today.”

As temperatures hovered around the mid-30s, children bundled up in costumes, hats and gloves stopped at each storefront from Sixth Street to First Street.

“It’s fun and safer,” said Quanisha Edwards, who braved the blustery winds with her family. “We’ll be out in the neighborhood for a little bit but not that long. I like trick or treating when it’s light out.”

Jennifer Hild attends the event every few years with her two little ones.

“Sometimes we go to my hometown to do door-to-door, but not this year, it’s too cold,” she said, holding her 1-and-a-half-year-old dressed as a lion.

Guiding parents and children across the crosswalks were at least a dozen volunteers with the Cedar Trails Patrol, a volunteer group that rides the Cedar Valley trails each summer.

And perhaps the most-recognized characters handing out treats were three Waterloo Black Hawks hockey players, twins Matt and Kyle Koopman, originally from the Boston area, and Daniel DiGrande of Michigan.

“I like the community service that we’re doing,” Matt Koopman said. “It’s always nice to see that kids look up to you. You can see their eyes light up. It’s fun, too, seeing kids smile.”

DiGrande agreed.

“They make us feel welcome, so it’s a lot easier coming here away from home and just volunteering. ... I feel like it makes the community a better place, everyone supports each other.”

Lind, Juon square off in citywide council race

WATERLOO — Tom Lind and Sharon Juon see stark contrasts in their race for the at-large Waterloo City Council seat up for grabs Tuesday.

Lind, of 172 Graceline Blvd., is looking to hang onto the seat he won in 2013. He is a retired businessman and Iowa Department of Transportation agent who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

Juon, of 1947 Falcon Ridge, retired after working 25 years as executive director of the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments and serving on a long list of volunteer boards and committees at the local and state level.

Despite being the incumbent, Lind sees himself as the outsider in the race who is looking for a new way of doing business, while Juon represents the “same old establishment power structure.”

“It is the insanity of doing the same things over and over with poor results contrasted by a council person who challenges management to make a better future Waterloo,” Lind said.

Juon, 70, said she’s a highly qualified candidate with years of community and professional experience who can help bring civility back to the City Council chambers.

“This race boils down to two different approaches: stagnation due to constant bickering or forward movement due to consensus, experience and leadership,” Juon said. “I believe our city is ready to move forward, and that’s why I’m running.”

Lind, 72, said he will continue to push for more efficient city government operations to lower a high tax burden, including a plan to reorganize city government with fewer departments and compensation tied to cost-saving ideas that are implemented.

He said he will continue to push for more transparency and accountability in both economic development efforts and city operations.

“We need good-paying jobs if the city is to prosper, and based on the continuing population decline our efforts are failing,” Lind said. “… Unfortunately, the administration prefers back-room deals and critical information revealed only to select council members.”

Lind said he’s proud of his record over the past four years, which includes helping secure a $3 million federal grant for the Grand Crossing condominiums; getting all council meetings televised; pushing to extend season golf pass times; working for the release of some tax-increment financing funds; leading discussions on public safety cameras; and bringing plans to budget hearings for tax relief.

“I have successfully challenged management, asked important questions and made for a better Waterloo,” said Lind, adding organized opposition has attacked his character and created a cruel and foul tone in his race.

Juon said her goals, if elected, include creating safer streets through a community policing approach, having officers working with residents in neighborhoods and ensuring police and firefighters have the staffing, training and resources to do the job.

She also wants to focus on economic development by partnering with educational institutions, ensuring incentives provided to attract a business also bring quality jobs with livable wages, and by helping existing businesses perform and grow.

“And we must always be mindful of the tax burden,” Juon added. “I will look at the bottom line for our citizens but believe that reduction in taxes will come about by growing the base.”

Juon also wants to “cultivate a sense of place” by empowering neighborhood associations and improving the city’s image both inside and out.

While Juon said she worked often with Lind’s brother, Jim, on community efforts, she said Tom has not shown the same level of leadership in City Hall.

“I have been disappointed in Tom Lind’s inability to get things done for the citizens of Waterloo because so much of the focus has been on highlighting our differences rather than embracing our strengths,” she said. “You just can’t accomplish great things by disrespecting others, ignoring huge portions of our city or by always saying no.”

On other issues that have made headlines in the past year, Lind said he would support a ban on fireworks in the city limits but accepts a compromise to allow their use only on July 4 with limited hours. Juon said she believed the window to use fireworks should be shorter than allowed by state law but did not state a specific time frame.

Lind said he also took a compromise position on an ordinance allowing chickens and other farm animals in backyards. While Lind said he does not support farm animals in residential areas, he gained support for more restrictions on lot sizes and neighborhood approval requirements.

Juon agreed the ordinance was crafted with protections for neighbors. But she said it was important to allow hobby farms to show Waterloo is a “forward-thinking” community interested in appealing to young professionals.

Lind supported an ordinance allowing automated traffic enforcement cameras to catch red light and speeding violators as “modern and efficient law enforcement and traffic safety programs.”

Juon declined to say whether she agreed with the vote but vowed to “heavily weigh the input of our public safety officials as it relates to the benefits these cameras can provide.”

Lind voted against a $1.5 million repair of the canopy over the downtown Fourth Street Bridge pedestrian walkway, saying he wanted a comprehensive review of design alternatives and preferred to have the cost paid out of tax-increment financing money.

Juon supported the canopy repair, noting removing the structure likely would cost taxpayers more because with likely wasn’t eligible for the gaming grant that covered half the repair cost.