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Govt-and-politics
Mayor vetoes Waverly bridge

WAVERLY — In a surprising move, the mayor has vetoed spending more money for a new pedestrian bridge approved by the City Council 10 days ago.

In an email sent Thursday to council members, the city attorney and city administrator, Mayor Charles Infelt announced he would veto Resolution 17-126. That resolution, approved 4-3 on Oct. 2, approved the latest round of funding for WHKS and Co. to continue putting together a plan for a pedestrian bridge over the Cedar River at Third Street S.E..

Infelt cited budgetary concerns and a city election next month as his reasons for the veto.

“I find it prudent to protect these tax payer monies until the new year and the sitting of new council,” Infelt wrote.

Infelt said Thursday he has been in favor of a two-lane vehicular bridge, while at the same time stressing he was a “mayor for everyone.”

“What causes (this) veto is that we could expend nearly $70,000 of engineering cost in preparation for bids, and have a new council make that a fruitless venture,” he said. “And so I didn’t want to pile on more expenses to the town.”

Infelt said that happened before, when council initially agreed to let bids on repairing the existing bridge and then voted against it — a fact outgoing at-large council member David Reznicek brought up in response to the mayor’s email.

“He’s concerned about $70k after his 4 council members blew $300k on the bridge so far?” Reznicek, who voted for the pedestrian bridge funding, wrote in an email. “This is nothing more than a couple people needing to win. It has nothing to do with a bridge.”

“Sad day for Waverly,” wrote Ward 3 council member Wes Gade, who also voted for funding. “The Liberal Left doesn’t get there (sic) way, they refuse to except (sic) the result.”

Ward 1 council member Dan Lampe, whose district includes the bridge, said he and the three others voted in favor of the pedestrian bridge based on the wishes of what he called an “overwhelming majority of residents.”

“I am very disappointed and troubled with his decision to veto this project,” Lampe wrote. “It demonstrates blatant disregard for the welfare and quality of life at stake for the area residents in this historic, working class neighborhood in order to provide a shortcut for the wealthier neighborhood residents in town.”

Reznicek, Gade and Lampe have all announced their resignations from the council, while Ward 5 council member Tim Kangas, who voted with the three in passing the pedestrian option, is in a contested council race next month.

With their majority gone in November, Infelt would have no automatic opposition to a vehicular option when the next council is seated, though some candidates have voiced opposition to a vehicular option as well.

Kangas said he would have preferred Infelt “allow this to go forward” since it was the will of the majority, but that he respected it was the mayor’s decision.

“I still do not feel a two-lane bridge is appropriate at this location, but that is now something a new council will have to look into and a two-lane bridge will certainly cost more than a pedestrian bridge,” Kangas wrote.

Those who have voted against the pedestrian bridge in the past praised the mayor’s veto.

“I fully support Mayor Infelt’s veto and the reason’s he’s stated,” wrote Ward 2 council member Dan McKenzie. “With the Mayor’s veto, we’ll now have the opportunity discuss all remaining options and how they could be funded.”

“I hope this step gives us the opportunity to take a comprehensive look at current and future traffic patterns, flood mitigation (especially in southeast Waverly), and river crossings—all within an integrated and strategic framework,” wrote At-Large council member Edith Waldstein.

Ward 4 council member Mike Sherer, who also voted against the pedestrian option, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The mayor’s veto is legal under Iowa Code.


Brandon Pollock / BRANDON POLLOCK, Courier Staff Photographer  

Waverly City Council members voted the Third Street East Bridge will be for pedestrians only 10 days ago.


Local
Casinos are local draws, analyst tells regulators

EMMETSBURG — Casinos in Iowa increasingly are local attractions and not destinations, bolstering the potential of how much new money a downtown Cedar Rapids casino could generate for the state, a market consultant told state gambling regulators meeting here Thursday.

Brent Wittenberg, vice president for Minneapolis-based Marquette Advisors, told the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission participation rates have peaked with the exception of local markets where new casino development or expansion has occurred.

“The drawing power of Iowa casinos is increasingly local,” he said.

The five-member commission is tasked with deciding whether Cedar Rapids gets a casino license and — if so — which of three proposals it accepts. That decision is expected Nov. 15.

Thursday, the regulators heard from Marquette and WhiteSand Gaming of Atlantic City, which both studied the potential market impact of the three options:

The $40 million Wild Rose Cedar Rapids next to the Skogman Building on First Avenue SE with 15 to 20 table games and 600 to 700 slot machines;

The $105 million Cedar Crossing Central attached to the DoubleTree Hotel on First Avenue NE with 15 table games and 550 slot machines;

The $165 million Cedar Crossing on the River on vacant land at First Avenue and First Street SW with 30 table games and 840 slot machines.

The commission in 2014 rejected an application virtually identical to Cedar Crossing on the River by a 4-1 vote, citing market study predictions it would take too much share from other casinos, notably the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.

Commissioners probed why Marquette’s projections changed so much since 2014, when it also studied the market impact for Cedar Crossing and Wild Rose Jefferson, which was ultimately approved.

In 2014, Marquette concluded Cedar Crossing would generate $81 million in adjusted gross revenue by 2017, including $59 million or 73 percent from cannibalizing business from casinos in Riverside, Waterloo and Tama.

By comparison, the new report predicts Cedar Crossing on the River would generate $47 million in new gambling revenue by 2022, with 45 percent of its revenue coming from existing casinos.

The two smaller proposals — Cedar Crossing Central and Wild Rose Cedar Rapids — would generate $25 million and $23 million, respectively, and cannibalize 56 percent each from other casinos.

Wittenberg explained the difference by saying new data analysis helps show they underestimated the rate of local participation.

Linn County residents visit casinos 3.5 times per person per year, while residents in communities already with casinos — including Dubuque (12 times a year), Waterloo (7.5 times per year), Davenport/Bettendorf (7.5 times per year) and Council Bluffs/Omaha (5.9 times per year) — gamble more frequently.

Marquette upped its prediction to a “reasonable” six times per year per Linn County resident, and reduced the effect of cannibalization, which changed the outlook, Wittenberg said.

“We anticipate this to be a much more localized customer base even compared to where we were three years ago,” he said. “This is really the trend in Iowa today. We expect far fewer customers from 45 minutes and beyond.”

WhiteSand, on the other hand, had a dour outlook of the potential for drawing new customers. Its report found the three proposals overstated annual revenue projections by 13 to 42 percent; none would generate more than $6.8 million in new gambling revenue for the state, it found, and each would cannibalize at least 89 percent from surrounding casinos.

Jim Nickerson, WhiteSand vice president, pointed to recent case studies of new casinos built in Kansas and upstate New York where revenue predictions were overstated in some cases by double what has come to fruition.

The greater discretionary income in urban areas is offset by more entertainment options, and people are less likely to fight traffic to attend the casino, he said.

Meanwhile, the casino proposals don’t include a hotel, which would help keep people in town longer, he said.

Iowa has 19 casinos, which covers much of the state. The novelty has worn off, he said.

“People say they will come more times and spend more money, but there’s a fixed budget people are going to spend on entertainment,” he said. “We don’t see that expanding.”

The would-be casino developers were critical of the WhiteSand study.

“Somebody tell me where that has happened anywhere,” said Tom Timmons, chief operating officer and president of Wild Rose Entertainment. “You could build a casino across the street (from another casino) and you wouldn’t have 90 percent cannibalization.”

Timmons pointed to the impact of other recent casinos, including Rhythm City in Davenport and its impact on nearby Wild Rose Clinton being less than predicted. Wild Rose Jefferson similarly has had less impact than expected on other casinos, including Prairie Meadows in Altoona.

A new casino can cause a dip for surrounding casinos, but the data shows those numbers bounce back, he said.

Jonathan Swain, an official with the Cedar Crossing proposals, noted the gap between the two studies, and credited Marquette as having experience in the Iowa market while WhiteSand does not. The tone of questions from commissioners were pretty positive, he said.

“We’ve been talking about this as an opportunity rather than a threat,” he said. “Cedar Rapids has one of the lowest participation rates of anywhere in the state, and it’s the second largest market.”

Jeff Lamberti, a commissioner from Ankeny, posed the most questions during the meeting. He considered the WhiteSand study “wildly different” from previous studies and “significantly pessimistic.”

“We’ve never seen this in Iowa, so the question will be whether this is new evidence,” he said.

Richard Arnold, commission chairman from Russell, said the Marquette study is “more in the ballpark” of how he sees the market, but said he doesn’t know how he will vote in November.

Dolores Mertz, a commissioner from Algona, told the consultants she believe the agricultural economy plays a big factor in the ups and downs of casinos, and questioned whether that was considered.

“When farmers have money, they spend money,” she said. “When they don’t, they don’t.”

The market studies are not particularly an important factor as she considers a license, she said. She was the lone vote in favor of a Cedar Rapids casino in 2014, and appears to be in favor again.

“The second largest city in the state deserves something,” Mertz said, adding she thinks it will come down to the two smaller casino plans.


Local
Shortage of EMTs a rural dilemma

WAVERLY – When Kip Ladage found his cancer-stricken mother near death in January, the local ambulance service found itself short staffed.

Family members phoned 911, but Tripoli medics weren’t available, and time was running out.

“We needed an ambulance to transport her and get her stabilized so we could get her up to Mayo to save her life, and we had no crew, other than me,” Ladage said.

Luckily, Ladage is the director of that very emergency medical service, and he had keys to the ambulance garage. He could tend to his mother, but he still needed a driver.

In another stroke of luck, a retired crew member had heard something was amiss — likely with the help of a radio scanner — and showed up to see if he could help.

“I said, ‘Jump in and drive,’ and I worked the back. We didn’t have any other crew there,” Ladage said. “It was pretty touch and go for awhile, but she made it.”

Ladage said similar scenes — minus access to the ambulance barn and the experienced passerby — play out often in rural Iowa, and it usually means deferring the call to another community, which increases response time.

Unlike fire protection, ambulance service in Iowa isn’t considered an essential service.

“There is no requirement that ambulance services exist, absolutely no requirement,” he said.

And the service is reaching a breaking point as small-town agencies are stretched for volunteers, many of whom are approaching retirement age.

Ladage, who is also Bremer County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, and Jim Schutte, the EMS association’s president, took their message about the state’s EMS crisis to a crowd of more than 100 Wednesday night during a town hall meeting at Wartburg College’s lyceum.

“Where you live shouldn’t determine if you live,” Ladage told attendees.

Ladage said state EMS groups have been lobbying lawmakers to make changes to ensure ambulance coverage and devise a funding mechanism. He asked Wednesday’s attendees to call their legislators so they can hear concerns from the public.

Rural departments usually pick up the cost of the training — about $2,500 for emergency medical technician and $10,000 for full paramedic. But the main issue is recruiting volunteers who obtain the certification and keeping them around to serve the community.

Even after certification, volunteers require ongoing training and must be available for calls.

“It’s all a big commitment,” Ladage said. “The number of people volunteering is critically low.”

The majority of those volunteering are in the 55 to 65 age bracket.

“When they start retiring, there are very few people to fill those spots. We think we are in a world of hurt now. What is going to happen when people start retiring?” Ladage said.

A secondary issue plaguing small-town ambulance services is Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, which hasn’t been able to keep up with costs.

“Some of the drugs, it costs us more than we are reimbursed. … If we bill at $22 a mile, we are lucky to get a dollar or two reimbursement on that,” Ladage said. “As soon as that garage door opens up, you are losing money.” And that’s just considering equipment and supplies, since personnel are volunteers.

Ladage and Schutte have been traveling the state bringing the message to lawmakers, community members and anyone else who will listen.

During Wednesday’s meeting, residents discussed possible solutions like funding EMS services through sales or property taxes.

“If we have equitable, sustainable funding, that will help to make this system work. And that’s the only thing that will keep this system afloat, especially if we eventually have to start hiring staff to cover these places where we don’t have people there anymore,” Ladage said.


COURTESY PHOTO  

Kip Ladage


Lamberti