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Doug Hines / AP PHOTO 

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, at a hearing June 8, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Doug Hines / HONS 

FILE - This undated file photo provided by Barron County, Wis., Sheriff's Department, shows Jayme Closs, who was discovered missing Oct. 15, 2018, after her parents were found fatally shot at their home in Barron, Wis. Detectives have pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and spent countless hours searching for Jayme, but their efforts haven't yielded any suspects. (Courtesy of Barron County Sheriff's Department via AP, File)

Crime in 2018: Waterloo police release new statistics

WATERLOO — Overall crime in Waterloo stayed relatively stable in 2018, dropping about 2 percent from the year before, according to numbers released by the city’s police department on Thursday.

Even so, the city saw six homicide cases with seven deaths, toward the upper threshold for the past decade. Arrests have been made in half of the 2018 homicide cases.

“There was a slight increase in the more serious offenses. This was driven by fraudulent activity, such as credit card fraud, and acts of violence among gang members,” Police Chief Daniel Trelka said.

“The increase was offset by a significant drop in less serious crimes such as nonviolent family offenses and public intoxication. These latest statistics show that Waterloo’s overall crime rate continues to trend down,” Trelka said.

Calls for service handled by police were down almost 5 percent, from 52,762 in 2017 to 50,203 in 2018.

According to the numbers, Group A offenses — about 30 serious crimes — were up 3 percent over the prior year, while Group B offenses — disorderly conduct, trespassing and other minor crimes — decreased 7.6 percent.

Combined Group A and B offense saw a 1.79 percent drop, according to the police department.

Waterloo Police Crime Stats 2018

Total index crimes — murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft — were slightly up in 2018, from 1,920 reported in 2017 to 1,927 last year.

Of the index crimes, aggravated assault showed the largest increase, up 26 percent from 188 in 2017 to 237 in 2018. It was still down compared the recent high in 2013 when 473 incidents were reported.

Murder remained steady, with six homicide cases being reported in both 2017 and 2018. Seven people lost their lives to crime in 2018, although two died in a single incident, so the city numbers show six homicide cases for the year.

The body of Lakisha Owens, 40, was found in a cemetery Jan. 26 a few days after she disappeared. Records indicate she died of asphyxiation. No arrests have been made in her death.

Ashley Smith, 32, and her 9-year-old son, Jaykwon Sallis, died in a fire at their home April 22. Denise O’Brien, who had a dispute with others in the house, was arrested for first-degree murder for allegedly setting fire to the house.

Greg Walker Jr., 33, was shot and killed in a friend’s home May 19. His slaying remains unsolved.

Shavondes Martin, 22, who had been acquitted in a 2016 slaying, was found shot to death in an alley May 31. His cousin, Danaesha Martin, has been arrested for murder and is awaiting trial. Shavondes Martin’s mother, 48-year-old Diane Martin, was killed when someone shot up her home Sept. 10. No arrests have been made in her death.

On June 13, 72-year-old Johannes Rodenburgh was beaten at the apartment complex where he worked, and he died days later. Police arrested Martavis Tayshon Wise for second-degree murder.

State revenue rising, but spending probably won’t

Sixth in a series of stories looking at issues facing the 2019 Iowa Legislature.

DES MOINES --- Heading into the 2019 legislative session, Republican talking points include: a) Iowa’s economy is strong; b) the state budget is balanced; and c) there’s a $127 million surplus in the treasury.

“Our budget is in as much a strong position than two years ago when we took over” after years of sharing control of the Iowa Legislature with Democrats, according to Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

“This economy is growing,” added Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. “We have great things happening.”

But after two consecutive sessions of rescinding and repurposing money already appropriated to keep the state’s $7 billion-plus general fund on course, Whitver said Republicans aren’t about to resume spending.

“Even though we are in a strong position and it seems there is more money that we could spend, we know we need to be very diligent (because) the economy is a little volatile right now,” said Whitver, 38, who will lead the 32-member GOP Senate caucus when this year’s Legislature convenes Monday.

What concerns Republicans is the impact tariffs, trade policy, historic tax changes and employers’ need for skilled workers could have on the economy.

Although the December Revenue Estimating Conference report projected an increase in tax collections, Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, 66, said her 54-46 Republican majority believes it has “no obligation to spend every nickel we take in.”

“No matter what the resources are, our goal is for a responsible budget,” the 16-year veteran from Clear Lake said. “I would argue that we need to be thoughtful about the budget even though there are more resources than we’ve seen in the last few budget cycles.”

David Roederer, 68, director of the Department of Management, expects the budget process to be “less difficult than some other years.”

But Roederer and the other two members of the revenue estimating panel scaled back previous estimates by $18 million in December.

The panel projected a 4.7 percent increase in tax collections — nearly $345 million — in the current fiscal year that ends June 30. Then it expects growth to slow to 1.8 percent, or $140 million more, in fiscal 2020 — the budget year for which lawmakers will craft a new state spending plan.

“We believe that there will be enough funding to do the essentials which government is supposed to do and the commitments that have been made,” Roederer said in December. “There will never be enough money to fully fund everything that everyone comes in the door wanting.”

There will be enough money to fund her priorities, Reynolds said, but it will be a challenge because “people want more money in education, more money in public safety.”

Most state agencies complied with Reynolds’ request to propose status-quo budgets. Overall, their requests for the budget year beginning July 1 were two-tenths of 1 percent higher than the current $7.26 billion general fund budget.

Reynolds hasn’t ruled out restoring some of the cuts made over the past two years.

Bottom line, Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said, Iowans’ priorities need more funding.

“Hopefully, we won’t see another bare-boned budget year for education,” she said. “Public schools took a significant hit.”

Nor did higher education escape the de-appropriations ax, Petersen, 48, said. Besides millions taken back from the Board of Regents, some students were turned down for Kibbie Grants that cover about half of the tuition at community colleges.

“It’s going to be a question whether that’s a priority for the governor and the leadership in the House and Senate to support the universities the way they need to be supported and community colleges,” she said. “Iowa families are going to pay the price in higher tuition costs.”

Reynolds’ preliminary budget shows a zero growth rate for K-12 state aid. The growth rate Supplemental State Aid typically is announced after lawmakers begin working on the budget. Whitver pointed out that education funding is 45 percent of the state budget, and Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, noted that since 2001, the Legislature has increased state aid to local schools by $765 million.

Two of Reynolds’ priorities are developing a children’s mental health system and workforce development Future Ready Iowa initiative. Both won unanimous support from legislators in 2018, “but there is no funding attached,” Petersen said.

“So if you want them to actually work, we’re looking forward to seeing what the governor outlines in her budget,” she said.

Not every department director submitted a status-quo budget.

Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is asking for a $500,000 boost in fiscal 2020 and a $1 million increase in his agency’s budget for the following fiscal year to help recover from years of flat funding or midyear cuts that have created a “perilous” situation for the state’s Department of Justice. His office has about the same number of attorneys as five years ago but is handling 40 percent more cases.

The Department of Human Services asked for $1.82 billion, about $828 million more than its current budget. Most of that is needed to cover Medicaid, which Roederer said costs about $154 per second.

“If we don’t bend and control the cost curve with Medicaid, that starts to eat up all of the available dollars,” the governor said.

In the end, House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said, Democrats are ready to work with GOP colleagues to fund their shared priorities.

“There’s definitely room with Future Ready Iowa to find bipartisan support,” he said. “There’s definitely room to find bipartisan support to solve Iowa’s mental health crisis.

“But as always, it’s the details,” Prichard, 45, said. “The devil’s in the details.”

Waterloo asks court for title to St. Mary's Villa

WATERLOO — The city is claiming an out-of-state investor has allowed the former St. Mary’s nunnery to decay beyond repair.

Waterloo City Attorney David Zellhoefer was in Black Hawk County District Court Thursday asking Judge Linda Fangman to declare the building at 123 E. Parker St. as abandoned and grant ownership to the city.

Owner Henry Anderson of Downey, Calif., did not appear for the hearing but filed an affidavit contending the city caused him to lose his grandchildren’s $600,000 college fund by failing to apply for federal funds to help him renovate the building.

Anderson filed a longer affidavit Wednesday claiming city officials were guilty of 37 counts of “felony, high crimes and misdemeanors,” including domestic mixed war, slavery, treason, fraud, extortion, robbery and racketeering, for which he was owed more than $11 million in damages.

Zellhoefer said those claims have no merit.

“The bottom line is that Dr. Anderson purchased the property in 2006 and has done nothing to improve it,” he said. “In reality, he has abandoned it. He has not paid the property taxes. He has failed to maintain the building. Water, black mold, animal feces and damage from vandalism are present.

“He entered into this sale with no participation or promises from the city,” Zellhoefer added. “The citizens of Waterloo will now have to foot the bill for the cleanup and demolition.”

Anderson purchased the former St. Mary’s church, school, rectory and nuns’ home from the Roman Catholic Church for $475,000 in 2006 with stated plans to save the historic property.

But the buildings sat empty without utilities or maintenance as no improvements were made.

The city seized title to the church, school and rectory through a court order last August after presenting evidence the structures had deteriorated beyond repair. The nunnery, which had last been used as the St. Mary’s Villa retirement home, was not part of the August ruling.

St. Mary’s Church and School was built in 1922 and was the church and school for the famous five Sullivan brothers killed during World War II while serving aboard the same U.S. Navy ship. A convent and rectory were added to the property in 1956.

St. Mary’s Church stopped holding services in 2003 when several parishes were combined and the school was renamed Queen of Peace. The Cedar Valley Catholic Schools Board of Education then closed the school and shut down St. Mary’s Villa for financial reasons in June 2006.

The city is working on plans to tear down the rectory for a flood control project. It has received numerous inquiries from residents wanting to salvage artifacts from the church, but any such action would require City Council approval.