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Govt-and-politics
As Country View sale nears, sale price falls again

WATERLOO — Black Hawk County will get less than expected from next week’s sale of the Country View care center.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the documents required for the scheduled New Year’s Eve closing on the sale of the long-time county-owned nursing home and mental health care center to a private buyer.

The board also voted 4-1 to place another $250,000 into an escrow fund for the new owner to use for future repairs to the building on Dunkerton Road north of Waterloo, essentially lowering the amount the county will pocket from the sale.

Supervisor Chris Schwartz voted against both measures, noting he was opposed to the sale, the county was getting less than originally promised from the transaction and he was disturbed about what he was hearing regarding the buyer’s treatment of employees.

“The company chose to wait until days before Christmas to let people know whether they were keeping their jobs or not and to break the news of the big pay cuts and that people are receiving massive increases in their insurance premiums,” Schwartz said.

“It’s really unfortunate they chose to wait so long and break the bad news at such a bad time for families,” he added.

Pritok Capital, of Skokie, Ill., bid $5.6 million when the nursing and mental health care facility, which was running huge budget deficits under county ownership, was put on the market in May.

But the supervisors agreed to lower the price to $4 million after the state slashed Medicaid reimbursement rates for some residents at the care center, which Pritok claimed devalued the center after the original bid was provided.

The supervisor voted in November to put $400,000 into an escrow account for Pritok to make repairs to the facility. This week’s action added another $250,000 to the escrow, which lowers the county’s actual profit from the sale to $3.35 million.

Eric Johnson, an attorney representing the county in the sale process, said the buyer initially sought $800,000 more for the escrow after finding $1.6 million in capital needs there.

“They had an architect-engineer group go through the building and noted improvements that they would like to make,” he said. “A very small portion was immediate-type improvements and others were more long-term.

“As we pointed out to them, they knew all along this was not a new building, and some of those were just long-term capital expenditures that you know you’re going to have to deal with over time,” Johnson added.

The supervisors did vote unanimously to approve a resolution thanking the current county employees for their years of service and dedication to the residents of the facility.

Supervisor Craig White said the list of current employees includes two with more than 40 years of service and 10 with more than 30 years at Country View.

Those employees will be laid off as county workers Dec. 31 and had to reapply for jobs with the new operator, Black Hawk Nursing and Rehabilitation LLC, which Pritok assigned to run Country View.

County Human Resources Director Debi Bunger said approximately nine positions were not being retained by the new operator. Country View had employed roughly 170 staff members earlier this year.

“As with other employees who have been impacted by a reduction in force in the past, information is provided to them concerning their options under county policy and applicable collective bargaining agreements,” Bunger said. “We encourage them to sign up for our job alerts and apply for openings they are interested in within Black Hawk County.”

Schwartz and a representative for the union representing the Country View employees through Dec. 31 said they’ve heard concerns about pay and benefit cuts for those who are being retained.

Mike Scarrow, business representative for Public, Professional and Maintenance Employees Local 2003, said he did not have firsthand knowledge of the pay and benefit levels Black Hawk Nursing and Rehabilitation was providing.

But Scarrow said some employees have told him “insurance is going up considerably and their wages are going down.”

A phone call and email send to Pritok Capital’s home office were not returned Wednesday. As a private employer, the company’s pay and benefit information are not a public record.

During the sale process, Pritok officials indicated the health insurance benefits likely would change significantly but said wage levels would be competitive with other nursing homes in the Cedar Valley.

Country View is licensed for 134 skilled nursing beds and has a 34-bed intermediate care facility for intellectually disabled clients. The county’s sale contract does not allow Black Hawk Nursing and Rehabilitation to displace any of those residents against their will.

Supervisors decided to sell Country View after it exhausted some $4 million in county reserves it was given to operate as an enterprise fund. The board transferred another $1.5 million into Country View’s coffers last year to keep it afloat and agreed to raise taxes again this year to maintain services there.

Supervisor Frank Magsamen said those decisions were all designed to maintain care for the residents.

“I think the decision to turn this over to a private (business) for them to provide quality service is the responsible thing for the county to do,” he said. “Long term I think it’s best for the residents at Country View.”


Local
Emily McClimon: Leading the way for young people

Thirteenth in a series on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.

WAVERLY — It’s Emily McClimon’s job — sort of — to be able to attempt the latest “Fortnite” dance.

Mimicking steps from the online video game draws laughs from teenagers at the Waverly Public Library, who are big fans of the game and the culture it’s spawned. But more than laughs, it’s reassuring to them that McClimon — at age 30 and therefore slightly removed from her teenage years — gets them.

“I’m OK with being nerdy with them, doing embarrassing things in front of them,” McClimon said. “You just have to get on their level and be OK with that.”

McClimon, Waverly’s teen librarian serving kids in seventh through 12th grade, has gained the trust of the city’s teens enough to make a more-robust Teen Advisory Board, which meets regularly and advises her on what materials to buy, what programs to run and how to better design an area to cater to their needs.

“The teens keep everything really fresh, and they don’t always get the best rep — not everyone at the library likes them,” McClimon said. “But I like being their advocate and giving them the opportunity to be shown in a really positive light — giving them leadership opportunities, opportunities to figure out what they want to be.”

It’s those leadership qualities, both within and outside of the Waverly Public Library, that prompted a slew of people to nominate her as one of this year’s 20 Under 40 recipients.

“Because of her, we have an excellent and very active program for the young people of our community,” said one of those nominators, Laura Hemmes with the Friends of the Waverly Public Library board.

Hemmes mentioned McClimon put together a “Harry Potter Escape Room,” and said people drove from up to four hours away to experience it.

Another nominator and Friends board member, Jo Bagelmann, said McClimon came upon some discarded restaurant booth seats that are now “always filled with young people doing homework after school.”

“Emily’s ability to move from opportunity to reality is outstanding,” Bagelmann wrote in her nomination. “In 2016, our teen program attendance grew 84 percent from the previous year. What library wouldn’t be thrilled with those statistics?”

But working as a teen librarian wasn’t McClimon’s original goal. With her grandparents and parents owning several small-town newspapers around eastern Iowa, she figured she’d be a journalist. Husband Levi got a job as an engineer with Unverferth Manufacturing in Shell Rock, however, and she found herself at the library.

“There’s a lot of parallels between journalism and the library world — we deal a lot with people’s stories, we deal a lot with freedom of speech,” she said. “I don’t have to deal with deadlines. But there’s a lot of things that overlap.”

One thing she did want to continue upon moving to the Cedar Valley was rowing — she went to the University of Iowa on a scholarship as a coxswain — and finally joined up with the post-flood Waterloo Rowing Club three years ago.

“I love being on the water,” she said. “You get to be out in nature while also getting a good workout.”

But it’s also taught her leadership: The coxswain, she said, is the “eyes and ears” of a boat in a race.

“I think you’ve got to be able to roll with any situation and improvise, kind of be that steady calm most of the time,” McClimon said. “They’re really relying on you to really pull through and make the right choices.”

Those lessons also have come in handy now that she and Levi are parents to Valerie, 3, and Tessa, 2. And she wants to continue to work with kids — starting up a high school rowing club in the area is another one of her goals.

As far as those looking to follow in her footsteps? Follow your passions, McClimon says.

“I would say pick things you really enjoy to get involved in,” she said. “The rest should come easy if you do that.”

‘I would say pick things you really enjoy to get involved in. The rest should come easy if you do that.’

Brandon Pollock / BRANDON POLLOCK, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER 

Emily McClimon is the teen librarian at Waverly Public Library. Photo taken at Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls.


Local
Milk tariffs mean food banks’ cup runneth over

DAVENPORT — There’s no reason to cry over spilled milk at Iowa food banks this season.

River Bend Foodbank in Davenport CEO Mike Miller said there’s plenty of milk to go around — 80,000 half-gallons to be exact, that will be distributed at food pantries across the region from now until March. The huge increase in donations is thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture program aimed at helping farmers hurt by the ongoing trade dispute and new tariffs on farm products.

The USDA announced in August it would buy up around $50 million worth of dairy from farmers struggling with low prices and a surplus of milk products. It’s distributing the milk, which would have been sold overseas, to food banks and meal sites across the country.

The River Bend Foodbank in Davenport, the main supplier of food pantries in eastern Iowa and western Illinois, has been receiving a deluge of milk since last month, Miller said.

“It’s certainly helpful to farmers who are hurt because tariffs are placed on their products going into China. And it’s a huge help for hungry people in our community,” he said. “But it has been challenging. Milk has a limited shelf life, so we have to move it quickly. We’ve got to move this week’s milk because more milk will be coming next week.”

In Waterloo, Barb Prather, executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, said they too are recipients of the milk donations.

“To date, we have had a pretty good system in place to move the milk,” Prather said. The “challenges for us are short shelf life and storage at the pantry level. We are working through issues as they arise but are really happy to have the product.”

Between now and March, the Davenport distribution site will receive 100 semi-truckloads of milk, he said, or around 5,000 half-gallons each week. While the donations are welcome, Miller said they’ve also brought challenges, including a lack of adequate storage and enough volunteers to distribute the massive supply.

River Bend Foodbank is receiving milk from farmers throughout the region. It’s being distributed through Illinois and Iowa.

John Maxwell, owner of Donahue’s Cinnamon Ridge Farms, who will join the Scott County Board of Supervisors in January, said dairy farmers are struggling to break even due to the tariffs.

“We sell milk by hundredweight, and typically the base is around $14 or $15. But, it’s gotten as low as $13,” Maxwell said. “Breaking even for most dairymen is in the upper teens, $17 or $18. So it’s been challenging. Especially when you’ve got a lot of cows and you’re losing money by the thousands each month.”

In Iowa, Maxwell said there’s been a “pretty major shake-down” in the dairy industry, with dairies going out of business, cattle being sold and farms unable to expand.

Maxwell said he’s trying to remain optimistic — a rare attitude in the industry today, he added. He hopes the new farm bill, signed by President Trump last past week, and new trade negotiations could improve farmers’ situations.

“Overall, we want what’s fair. But for us, having ‘fair’ be at this cost is a challenge,” he said. “If we look at this two or three months from now and we have good prices because we were willing to say to China, Canada and Mexico that this is not a fair deal, then I’d say it’s worth it. We’re hoping it’s worth holding out for.”

He added that the government buying up milk products is needed temporary assistance for local farmers.

And, for Miller, the milk donations are crucial to feeding hungry people throughout the 23 counties the River Bend Foodbank serves.

“Some areas of the country have had to decline these donations because it’s too much to handle and milk is not usually donated,” Miller said. “Our team just refused to say ‘no’ because it’s good for hungry families. In our community, one in eight people don’t have enough food, and one in five kids go hungry. That’s about 120,000 people in the 23 counties we serve.”

The USDA is sending donations in phases. The first round, all milk, will continue until March. Then another phase and another round of challenges will begin, Miller said.

“With the first round of trade negation, the government just gave us the food and nothing to cover expenses. So I was concerned about that,” he said. “I was encouraging the public to reach out to representatives and influence the situation. Fortunately, with the second round, they are going to provide funding to cover those expenses. So we’re excited about Round 2.”

He expects the next donations to include a wider variety of food products, such as poultry, pork or rice. Miller said River Bend Foodbank is asking for donations to help with distribution costs, plus additional volunteers in January and February.

“We’re certainly thankful for this opportunity, and I’m really proud of my team,” Miller said. “Even though there is some pressure and it’s a lot of work, nobody has said ‘no.’ If we have this opportunity to help hungry people, we’re going to step up to the plate and get it done. That’s the spirit of River Bend Foodbank and the spirit of our entire community. I’m proud of that.”


International
AP
Trump makes first visit to US troops in harm's way

AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq — In an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday, President Donald Trump staunchly defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from neighboring Syria despite a drumbeat of criticism from military officials and allies who don’t think the job fighting Islamic State militants there is over.

Trump, making his first presidential visit to troops in a troubled region, said it’s because the U.S. military had all but eliminated IS-controlled territory in both Iraq and Syria that he decided to withdraw 2,000 forces from Syria. He said the decision to leave Syria showed America’s renewed stature on the world stage and his quest to put “America first.”

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” Trump told U.S. servicemen and women at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq, about 100 miles west of Baghdad. “We’re respected again as a nation.”

The decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria, however, stunned national security advisers and U.S. allies and prompted the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was not on the trip, and the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic extremist group. The militant group, also known as ISIS, has lost nearly all its territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.

Iraq declared IS defeated within its borders in December 2017, but Trump’s trip was shrouded in secrecy, which has been standard practice for presidents flying into conflict areas.

Air Force One, lights out and window shutters drawn, flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad in darkness Wednesday evening. George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq as president and President Barack Obama made one.

During his three-plus hours on the ground, Trump did not meet with any Iraqi officials, but spoke on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. He stopped at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on his way back, for a second unannounced visit to troops and military leaders.

Trump’s Iraq visit appeared to have inflamed sensitivities about the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The two major blocs in the Iraqi parliament both condemned the visit, likening it to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

The airbase where Trump spoke is about 155 mile from Hajin, a Syrian town near the Iraqi border where Kurdish fighters are still battling IS extremists. Trump has said IS militants have been eradicated, but the latest estimate is that IS still holds about 60 square miles of territory in that region of Syria, although fighters also fled the area and are in hiding in other pockets of the country.

Mattis was supposed to continue leading the Pentagon until late February but Trump moved up his exit and announced that Patrick Shanahan, deputy defense secretary, would take the job on Jan. 1 and he was in “no rush” to nominate a new defense chief.

“Everybody and his uncle wants that position,” Trump told reporters traveling with him in Iraq. “And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt, just so I won’t be criticized.”

Critics said the U.S. exit from Syria, the latest in Trump’s increasingly isolationist-style foreign policy, would provide an opening for IS to regroup, give Iran a green light to expand its influence in the region and leave U.S.-backed Kurdish forces vulnerable to attacks from Turkey.

“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds,” said Trump, who wore an olive green bomber style jacket as he was welcomed by chants of “USA! USA!” and speakers blaring Lee Greenwood’s song, “God Bless the USA.”

“We’ll be watching ISIS very closely,” said Trump, who was joined by first lady Melania Trump.

Trump also said he had no plans to withdraw the 5,200 U.S. forces in Iraq. That’s down from about 170,000 in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

Trump spoke on the phone with the prime minister, but the White House said security concerns and the short notice of the trip prevented the president from meeting him.

The prime minister’s office said “differences in points of view over the arrangements” prevented the two from meeting but they discussed security issues and Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the phone. Abdul-Mahdi’s office also did not say whether he had accepted an invitation to the White House. But Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on the flight back that the Iraqi leader had agreed to come.

Trump said that after U.S. troops in Syria return home, Iraq could still be used to stage attacks on IS militants.

“We can use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria,” he said. “If we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard” that they “really won’t know what the hell happened.”

Trump said it’s time to leave Syria because the U.S. should not be involved in nation-building, and that other wealthy nations should shoulder the cost of rebuilding Syria. He also said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to battle “any remnants of ISIS” in Syria, which shares a border with Turkey.