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UNI rally protests gun deaths

CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa students gathered at the Campanile on Wednesday to protest gun violence following last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.

“We as a country need to feel angry about this,” sophomore Emily Paul shouted through a bullhorn, referencing the 17 people who died in the shooting.

She organized the noon event through Facebook and by putting fliers up around campus as part of a national effort to walk out of classes.

“We are here to walk out of the classroom for those who never got to,” said the 19-year-old, inviting anyone in the crowd to come forward and speak. Nearly a dozen people stepped forward over about a half hour.

Between angry speeches and chants of “Not one more,” organizers called on attendees to pull out their phones and add the numbers of Iowa’s congressional delegation to their contacts.

“We have to be calling,” said Paul, urging attendees to contact elected representatives with their concerns about gun violence. She suggested Iowa’s two Republican U.S. senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, are “feeding the problem.”

Paul said Ernst received $3 million in support from the National Rifle Association for her 2014 political campaign. She also criticized UNI alum Grassley of nearby New Hartford, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last year he introduced a bill that eliminated the Social Security Administration’s proposed regulation to automatically put the names of those with severe mental illness who receive benefits in a national background check system, which would prevent them from buying a gun.

“This means our own government is putting weapons in the hands of people who want to kill,” said Paul.

Grassley’s office responded that the regulation needed to be repealed because it took action without a formal hearing, violating due process rights, and didn’t require a finding the person was mentally ill or a danger to themselves or others before they were reported to the background check system.

Another speaker urged attendees to contact U.S. 1st District Rep. Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, with concerns about gun violence, noting he’s up for re-election in 2018. Blum’s downtown Cedar Falls office will be the site of a 10 a.m. Friday gun violence protest organized by Cedar Falls High School students.

A number of speakers suggested all three politicians need to be voted out of office.

Freshman Angela Speltz referenced several past mass shootings and said inaction at addressing the problem is spreading fear.

“My little brother who is in school right now is afraid to go to school because he thinks someone is going to shoot him,” she said.

“I was raised Republican. I was raised with the belief that we should all have the right to bear arms,” Speltz added, noting she doesn’t accept that anymore. “I have had enough.”

Tyler Fulks, a junior and an education major like a number of those who spoke, decried calls by some politicians to arm teachers as a way to stop mass shootings in schools.

“I’m tired of being scared, and I’m tired of being scared for my students,” he said.

Sophomore Trevor Fletcher, a member of UNI’s student senate, told the crowd he is part of network involving 10 universities so far working to organize gun reform groups on campus. He also was signing up people to attend a march near the Capitol in Des Moines on March 24.

“I myself support the Second Amendment,” he said, referencing the constitutional right to bear arms. But he added guns must be harder to buy and certain weapons shouldn’t be sold.

UNI student Brenna Wolfe noted there have been “7,000 incidents of gun violence in 2018 and 34 mass shootings.

“Let that sink in,” she said. “It’s February 21st and we’ve had 34 mass shootings.”

According to, the 7,470 incidents this year involve all kinds of gun deaths and injuries. A mass shooting is defined as four or more shot or killed in a single event not including the shooter.

Wolfe cited a number of potential factors in the shootings and said “all of these need to be addressed. Let’s start with gun control so that violent people don’t have access to guns.”

Darrah named interim CEO as Alliance plans future

WATERLOO — The head of the Cedar Valley TechWorks has been named interim CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber.

Cary Darrah, who has been with TechWorks since 2007, was named interim leader of the GCVAC as the economic development and business organization finishes a goal-setting process in its search for a new executive director.

Darrah also served 10 years as director of Cedar Falls Community Main Street from 1997 to 2007. She is the first woman to head the Alliance or any of its predecessor organizations since Kristi Ray headed the Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce from 1997 to 2002.

The Alliance was created in 2004. The Waterloo and Cedar Falls chambers merged in 2007 and became part of the Alliance in 2008. TechWorks, a entrepreneurial campus of former John Deere buildings, is an Alliance subsidiary.

Darrah initially was TechWorks manager, then named Alliance executive vice president of community development in 2012 and TechWorks president in 2016.

“Make no mistake, Cary is in the interim CEO position because she is very qualified,” said Alliance board chairman Bob Smith Jr. of Lockard Cos.

Alliance and Chamber CEO Steve Dust announced last month he was stepping down after 14 years and would formally resign by June 30. His last day was Friday. Smith said it was easier to allow Dust to devote full attention to pursuing his next venture while the Alliance set its future course.

“Cary was just the logical choice, very qualified,” Smith said. “She’s well liked and trusted by the team there and the community.”

Smith said the Alliance and Chamber hope to begin a national search in April after completing “a long-term visioning and planning process.”

It will be facilitated by Randy Pilkington, executive director of business and community services and director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Northern Iowa and Drew Conrad, director of the UNI Institute for Decision Making.The plan will focus on workforce talent, economic development, regional development and value and support to investors.

“It is time again to think outside the box and cast a new vision for the Cedar Valley,” Alliance officials wrote in a letter to investor members.

“We’re at an exciting point,” Darrah said. She said she might apply for the CEO post permanently if the goal-setting process indicates she’s a good fit.

“Either way, I’m here,” she said.

“All qualified applicants will be considered,” Smith said. Waverly Partners, an Ohio-based executive search firm will assist in the search.

Proposed Waterloo budget spares homeowners

WATERLOO — Homeowners here will see the smallest city property tax increase in five years.

Waterloo City Council members voted unanimously this week to set a March 8 hearing on a budget raising the city’s tax rate from $17.60 to nearly $18.19 per $1,000 of property value next year.

Residential property owners would see just less than a 1 percent increase in city taxes based on that rate, marking the smallest tax hike since the tax bills were flat in fiscal year 2013-14.

Council members still can lower but not increase the tax rate during the hearing, establishing the published budget as the worst-case tax scenario.

Mayor Quentin Hart said staff and council members aren’t done looking for ways to lower the projected tax rate.

“We are continuously looking at ways to cut more costs, and staff has been coming up with out-of-the-box ideas,” Hart said. “We’re going to work up to the last minute.

“Council will be submitting recommendations as well,” he added. “I’ll try to take those recommendations and put together a budget that is respectful to our residents and businesses in the community.”

The published budget would generate about $1 million in new tax revenue, a 2.5 percent increase.

The proposed residential tax hike is lower than the overall increase in taxation due to a state-mandated residential “rollback” order. A home’s assessed value used for taxing purposes drops from 56.9 percent to 55.6 percent for tax bills due in September.

The owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000 would see the city’s share of their tax bill increase from $1,002 to $1,012, or $9.54. The city collects about 42 percent of the overall tax bill in Waterloo, with the schools and county setting their own rates.

Commercial and industrial property owners would see a 3.34 percent increase in city taxes at the published rate.

Despite the modest impact on residential taxes, the proposal to increase the tax rate over $18 per $1,000 for the first time since 2013 is likely to draw fire from some residents and council members.

Waterloo’s current $17.60 city tax rate is fourth-highest among Iowa cities with populations exceeding 20,000; it only betters Council Bluffs among the top 10 cities.

The City Council has adopted a strategic plan to lower the rate to $16.50 by July 2022.

Meanwhile, Chief Financial Officer Michelle Weidner has indicated work is still required to balance the published budget, which included the projected wage and benefit increases for employees.

The published budget did not cover some known cost increases for certain contractual obligations, such as a $33,000 increase in police and fire dispatch fees owed to the county communications center or a $58,000 loss in golf revenue based on previous years’ totals.

The proposed budget also anticipates the Iowa Legislature will continue its promise to reimburse local governments for lost tax revenue from a 2012 property tax reform bill. Some lawmakers have indicated a desire to begin reducing that backfilled revenue.

Iowa Senate GOP says plan would cut taxes by $1B annually

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa Senate Republicans on Wednesday released a plan they say would cut more than $1 billion annually in taxes, though it’s unclear how much support the measure has within the party.

The proposal, released in a roughly 130-page bill, would make a wide range of changes to Iowa’s tax system, such as cutting corporate and individual income taxes and phasing out some tax credits that have taken up more of the state budget in recent years.

“This is real, meaningful reform coupled with a significant reduction — not just tinkering around the edges,” said Senate President Jack Whitver, an Ankeny Republican.

The bill goes further than a tax plan from GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds that would cut individual income taxes but not corporate taxes, in part because of ongoing revenue shortfalls in the state’s current $7.2 billion budget. Reynolds wants the Legislature to study the state’s use of tax credits and has indicated she wants to address corporate taxes in the future.

The tax proposals come as the GOP-controlled Legislature is considering mid-year budget cuts of at least $30 million expected to impact state agencies and public universities. Lawmakers are also sorting out how to address repaying about $144 million in borrowed money from emergency reserves.

Senate Republicans did not focus on those financial realities in a statement, though it’s possible the federal tax cuts approved through Congress late last year may bring in new state revenue that could play a role.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, claimed without specifics that the plan in his chamber “will boost the local economy.” Sen. Randy Feenstra, a Hull Republican who leads a Senate tax writing committee, added the proposal “encourages Iowans to invest in themselves and our state.”

Senate Republicans gave the public little time to review the bill before scheduling votes today in a subcommittee and full committee. That means the legislation could have several procedural votes a little over 24 hours after it was introduced. Several other legislative votes are needed, including approval in the House.

The Senate GOP plan includes reducing the top corporate tax rate from 12 percent to 7 percent. Individual tax rates would also be cut, including reducing the top rate from 8.98 percent to 6.3 percent.

The measure, like Reynolds’ plan, would eliminate a system that has allowed Iowans to deduct what they pay in federal income taxes from state tax liability.

Brenna Smith, Reynolds’ press secretary, said the governor’s office was still reviewing the Senate GOP bill. Smith said Reynolds is “pleased” the Senate is adding provisions the governor didn’t include in her own plan.

“We look forward to working with both the Senate and the House to pass a bill that cuts taxes and does it in a fiscally responsible way,” Smith added in an email.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has yet to publish fiscal notes that analyze the financial implications of either the Senate GOP plan or Reynolds’ proposal.

House Republican leadership was reviewing the Senate GOP plan for the first time Wednesday, according to a spokesman. The chamber did not have an immediate comment.