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Police investigate death following morning standoff in Cresco

CRESCO – Authorities are investigating a woman’s death at a Cresco mobile home.

A man was taken into custody following a standoff with police Thursday morning. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation spokesman Mitch Mortvedt said an Iowa State Patrol SWAT team negotiated the peaceful surrender.

The identity of the deceased and other details weren’t immediately available.

Cresco police officers were sent to the 700 block of South Elm Street around 1:30 a.m. Thursday for a report of gunfire in the area, according to the DCI.

When police arrived, they found a person barricaded inside a mobile home.

After several hours of negotiation, police were able to detain the barricaded man. Officers then discovered a dead body inside the home.

Grassroots effort launched to stop Country View sale

WATERLOO — A pair of Country View employees are spearheading an effort to halt the sale of the county-run nursing and mental health care center.

Debra Vivians and Melissa Lee are circulating a petition asking the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors not to sell Country View. They picked up more than 400 signatures just this week going door-to-door after work.

“People have been very supportive,” Lee said. “They’re behind us 100 percent.”

Some community members have agreed to put up yard signs encouraging the county to continue owning and operating the facility on Dunkerton Road north of Waterloo.

The Board of Supervisors, citing a $2 million annual operating loss, has retained a real estate broker and attorney to market Country View for sale to private buyers and are looking for ways to ensure a new owner would keep it open.

But Vivians and Lee believe a private buyer would force many of Country View’s 131 current residents out.

“We don’t want them to be taken advantage of out in the community or shuffled off to another county,” Lee said.

Vivians said Country View has many residents with mental health and behavioral issues who can’t afford, or won’t be accepted as clients at, other privately run nursing facilities like the Western Home Communities.

“The community needs this place,” said Vivians, adding almost everyone in the county has a family member who may need Country View’s services in the future.

Both women noted Country View has many elderly residents who have lived there since their teen years and younger persons without outside family support. Staff members are the closest thing to family many residents have.

“We’ve worked here for years; they know us and they trust us,” Lee said. “We are the voice of these residents who don’t have a voice.”

Vivians addressed the supervisors Tuesday asking them to give employees a chance to work on controlling costs instead of putting Country View on the market.

But she said people they’ve met while gathering signatures are not as concerned with the prospect of Country View needing greater property tax support.

“The response from taxpayers is: ‘Our taxes are going to go up anyway,’” Vivians said. “They don’t understand why the county would sell Country View.”

Residents wanting to get involved in the effort to stop the sale can reach Vivians at (319) 215-7161 or Lee at (319) 464-6923.

Reynolds tax plan finds support, worries

DES MOINES — Lawmakers and lobbyists were generally supportive of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed tax plan Thursday but disagreed on whether the $1.7 billion proposal would yield the promised tax relief.

“It’s targeted toward the middle class, small businesses, working class families,” the governor’s lobbyist Ted Stopulos said during a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on House Study Bill 671.

“At the same time, the bill is designed to modernize Iowa’s tax code ... (and) also provides a mechanism for budget sustainability going forward,” he said. “That’s a key piece for the governor.”

But Democrats on the subcommittee were concerned.

“As Democrats, we look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to make a plan, a strategy that works in the long-term for all Iowans,” Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said.

“Using simple math,” Prichard said, he didn’t see any guarantee the state could balance its budget “when we are creating a $300 million tax cut year-over-year for the next five years.”

Rep. John Forbes, D-Des Moines, said tax relief is not Iowans’ only priority.

“What I’m seeing here could have very detrimental impact on us being able to provide vital services” such as clean water, mental health services and adequate funding for education, he said.

In what Reynolds called the “most significant tax reform package in decades,” the governor proposed cutting Iowans personal income taxes by $1.7 billion over six years, revamping rates by phasing out federal deductibility and equalizing sales tax collections by treating Main Street and online businesses alike.

The governor’s plan seeks to cut income tax rates by 23 percent, resulting in $1.7 billion accumulated relief by 2023.

According to the governor’s office, state individual income tax cuts would total $290 million through tax year 2019, $296.4 million in 2020, $337.7 million in 2021, $377.8 million in 2022 and $448.6 million in 2023.

Iowa’s current nine personal income tax brackets would be reduced to eight, with the top rate of 8.98 percent to be reduced to 6.9 percent by 2023 and would only apply to incomes above $160,965. Currently, income above $73,260 is taxed at 8.98 percent.

The subcommittee hearing came on the heels of Iowa Senate majority Republicans passing a sweeping tax relief and simplification plan Wednesday that would cut individual and corporate income tax rates by $1 billion. Democrats warned they were riding “a bobsled to bankruptcy.”

The House is considering its own bill.

Speakers representing tax relief groups, businesses and farmers welcomed the discussion. Noting Iowa was ranked the best state in the nation by U.S. News earlier in the week, Jennifer Kingland of the Iowa Taxpayers Association said being No. 1 in corporate taxing “is not a good thing.” Neither is having some of the highest individual income tax rates in the country, added Christopher Ingstad of Iowans for Tax Relief.

Iowa Chamber Alliance lobbyist John Stineman called the House bill “thoughtful” and “a great start.”

However, Brad Hudson of the Iowa State Education Association asked lawmakers to slow down because talking about tax cuts at the same time the state is cutting the current year budget is confusing Iowans.

“I ask you to show the kids of Iowa ... that they are more important to you than out-of-state corporate interests, than property or landowners, than the top 10 percent wealthiest Iowans,” he said. “Those are the groups who will benefit from this the most.”

The 20 percent cut in state revenues will punish K-12 schools, universities and community colleges and mental health, Democrats contend.

Subcommittee Chairman Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, said he plans no further action on the bill, which was introduced more than two weeks ago, until after March 16, the second deadline for legislation to be eligible for further debate.

Grant-funded program to boost number of minority teachers in Waterloo


Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the University of Northern Iowa was the recipient of the grant.

WATERLOO — A grant-funded program is expected to help Waterloo Community Schools increase the number of minority teachers in its classrooms.

The University of Northern Iowa was recently awarded a $300,000 two-year grant by the R.J. McElroy Trust to implement the Teach Waterloo Project in collaboration with the district. Its purpose is to address the disparity between minority teachers and students across Waterloo Schools.

“Right now, we’re serving 52 percent minority students, and our teaching staff is less than 8 percent minority,” said Bev Smith, associate superintendent for human resources and equity. “There’s research that supports the value and power of providing a diverse staff for all students.”

Targeting district staff, the program helps fund an education degree for participants in collaboration with UNI.

“We will be supporting 18 individuals who are behavior interventionists or para(educator)s for them to become teachers,” Smith told the Board of Education this week. Funding would pay for administrative oversight of participants as well as partially cover tuition and provide other support.

The program will begin in the fall and be open to minority staff in those positions with at least an associate’s degree. They would continue working at district schools and take night classes over two years to earn an education degree.

“They will be trained as elementary teachers,” said Smith, and would have the option of earning endorsements in special education or other areas at their own cost after completing the program.

“Diverse students who have diverse teachers tend to fare better and do better in school,” said UNI College of Education Dean Gaëtane Jean-Marie. In addition, she noted that the approach of working with existing staff is expected to improve retention once they become teachers.

The effort is part of “the collective vision to continue to provide a pipeline of teachers to the state of Iowa,” added Jean-Marie. A group of administrators from the university and the district developed the idea.

“We had over 50 minorities apply and express interest, and we can only do 18 at a time,” said Smith. “We’re continuing to look for additional funds ... so we can do an ongoing process.

“We have individuals that are very prepared and we’re going to make sure that first 18 that become a part of that cohort are going to be successful,” she added. “That’s critical to us. I’m doing individual interviews with each of the applicants to make sure this is the time in their life to move forward and get that done.”

Board member Rhonda McRina praised the idea of focusing on this group of district staff in the program. These are “people who understand our community, who understand these kids” and want to be in Waterloo.

“It really shows how much we value our paras and behavior intervention specialists,” she added. “These are not easy jobs, and so incentivizing this group to stay in our district is really awesome.”