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Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

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County seeking support from local cities to hire more paramedics

SIOUX CITY | Faced with a gap in paramedic services countywide, Woodbury County officials are asking the county's rural cities to weigh whether they would financially support 24/7 paramedic service at the county level. 

Under a plan pitched to local leaders Monday, each of Woodbury County's 14 smaller cities would pay a proportional percentage of the $288,365 needed to fund 3¾ paramedic positions at the county level and medical supplies. It would come out to approximately $14.79 per capita. 

Of that amount, $121,861 would also come from the rural services levy in Woodbury County's budget, which is money collected from rural townships. 

County leaders believe such a plan would help the county fill the gap left in the rural emergency services system on Jan. 1 when Siouxland Paramedics Inc., the nonprofit ambulance service that had sent paramedic assistance to rural Woodbury County areas, ceased responding to emergency calls.

Woodbury County Emergency Services, which is based in Climbing Hill, currently hires only one paramedic who works daytime hours on weekdays. Director Gary Brown said it would need the other 2¾ positions to reach 24/7 capacity. 

Paramedic assistance is necessary on calls where care on the way to the hospital is needed beyond what a basic emergency medical technician can provide, such as IVs and many medications. 

Woodbury County finance director Dennis Butler presented the plan Monday evening during a Woodbury County Board of Supervisors town hall meeting. Several local mayors, city council members, township leaders and emergency services representatives attended the meeting. 

In addition to the first plan, Butler presented two other options as comparisons. One would allow Sergeant Bluff, which has paramedics on its volunteer fire department, to opt out of the payment. But that would cause the cost for the rest of the cities to rise. 

"If cities drop out it could jeopardize the whole plan," Butler said. "Because when one city drops out, it raises the per capita for the rest." 

A third option presented would require each city to pay the same amount, $11,893, but would disproportionately affect smaller cities, such as Oto, where only 108 residents would be responsible for footing the bill. 

Butler said the first option provides a fair way to fund the charge and will exempt Sioux City, which began funding its own Emergency Medical Services Division on Jan. 1 to fill its own gap. 

If the cities take no action, Butler said, the current Woodbury County paramedic in July will be funded using the money supplied by the townships and will then only serve the rural townships, not the cities. 

County board chairman Rocky De Witt told attendees the board would like to know the cities' interest in participating in the plans at their proposed funding level by the first week in February. 

"I don't think there's any one of us on the board ... that aren't hopeful that we can still get something put together," he said. "Take this back to your councils, take this back to your neighbors, and see what we can get done."

If the cities are on board, the plan would then go into effect July 1, at the beginning of the 2019 budget year. Supervisors would then be advised on paramedic services by a newly formed advisory board including mayors and emergency services representatives.

Brown said a more ideal situation would be for the state of Iowa to make emergency medical services an essential service -- such as law enforcement and fire response -- and then to allow counties to establish a levy countywide that could exempt large cities, such as Sioux City, which provide their own services. 

Day 1 at Iowa Statehouse
Iowa legislative session opens; Republicans pledge 'big, bold' agenda

DES MOINES — Monday was a mix of optimism and criticism as lawmakers convened a 2018 session with Republican promises of tax relief and Democrats bemoaning inaction in fixing a budget “mess” and addressing costly sexual harassment concerns in the Statehouse.

“The first day of the legislative session is one of my favorites as a legislator,” Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in his opening-day remarks. “Optimism runs high, and there are smiles and laughter heard throughout the chamber as we reconnect with friends and colleagues.”

Much of the first-day activities dealt with pomp, ceremony, opening speeches, reminiscing and procedural matters as family members accompanied legislators to the Statehouse and took in the pageantry.

Senators opened the session by swearing in a new member, Sen. James Carlin, R-Sioux City, a former House member who was elected to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Bill Anderson’s resignation. Since the Legislature adjourned its last session in April, two House members — Reps. Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, and Gregg Forristall, R-Macedonia — died. Monday, their successors, Reps. Phil Miller, D-Fairfield, and John Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, were sworn in for partial terms.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said this year’s session should be about enabling “upward mobility” for Iowans seeking to improve their skills and positions, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said the focus will be on creating career opportunities and keeping more money in taxpayers’ pockets.

“We are more than just talking the talk, we’re here to walk the walk, or, as many of you remember, we’re here to kick the door in. And we kept our promises, ” Dix said in his speech.

“In 2017, our agenda was big and bold,” he added. “In 2018, Senate Republicans will move an agenda that will again be big and bold because this state deserves big and bold. The changes we make will move our state forward in a positive direction, felt for many generations to come.”

That message was countered by minority Democrats who called for bipartisan cooperation in addressing concerns about health care, water quality, mental health services, education and spending priorities in a time of sluggish revenue.

“Last session, the Legislature did a lot of bad things to good people. That was a mistake, but it has been a wake-up call for Iowans,” said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines. “Let’s start the conversation with a message that unifies us instead of tearing us apart.”

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, said it was disingenuous for Democrats to call for bipartisanship but then immediately issue a political broadside on GOP accomplishments from the past session.

During a pre-session prayer breakfast, Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann dismissed criticism like House Democrat Leader Mark Smith’s claim the state budget has been grossly mismanaged by the majority party as “absolutely background noise.” He exhorted GOP legislators to “make the state — and yes I’m going to say it — great again.”

Upmeyer said it was “an understatement” to call the 2017 session productive and she expected this year would build on those successes.

“We have a bold, pro-growth agenda and we are ready for this session,” she noted, while Gov. Kim Reynolds pledged that Statehouse Republicans “are not going to go backward — we’re going to keep going forward” by cutting taxes and bolstering Iowa’s skilled workforce.

During her floor speech, Petersen called on majority Republicans to address the “disgraceful” and “predatory behavior” in the Senate that led to a $1.75 million settlement paid to Kirsten Anderson, who alleged a “toxic” work environment at the Capitol while she served as the communications director for Senate Republicans.

“The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the Capitol. That is unacceptable,” said Petersen. “But it’s not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim. Retaliation against a whistle blower is grounds for termination in the Senate’s handbook, but it is clear that rule is being ignored.”

Senate Republican leaders say they have asked a retired senator with human resources experience to review Senate rules and await recommendations.

“There is a reckoning in our country on the issue of harassment in the workplace,” Petersen added in her speech. “The Iowa Senate has the choice: Do something serious to address this problem, or be on the wrong side of history.”

State sues Rochester for illegal electronics storage, disposal

SIOUX CITY | The Iowa Attorney General's Office has filed suit against former Sioux City Councilman Aaron Rochester, claiming he and his former electronic waste recycling companies collected waste disposal fees for years and illegally stored and disposed of millions of pounds of electronics components and hazardous waste.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Woodbury County District Court, also seeks $75,290 the state says Rochester owes for a 2011 loan granted through a state program to buy equipment for Recycletronics -- Disabled Vets at Work, one of several defunct electronic waste recycling businesses. The lawsuit also alleges that from 2013 to 2016, Recycletronics submitted false disposal reports to the state.

More than 17 million pounds of waste, including crushed cathode ray tubes and other electronic components that may contain lead, mercury and other toxic materials, are stored at numerous facilities, some of them unlicensed, in Iowa and Nebraska. Cleanup of the Iowa sites alone could cost an estimated $1.5 million, according to a news release from Attorney General Tom Miller.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of civil penalties against Rochester and a permanent injunction to keep Rochester, The Name Ministries, Siouxland P.C. and Recycletronics from committing further violations. The Attorney General's Office also seeks a court order requiring Rochester to clean up and properly dispose of all solid waste in compliance with Iowa laws.

Rochester, a former city environmental advisory board member, said Monday he was unaware that the lawsuit had been filed. He said it was no surprise that the state would seek civil penalties and repayment of the loan, but he was surprised that the state filed a lawsuit to do so.

"I just don't understand why they needed to file a lawsuit when I've been so willing to work with them," Rochester said.

Rochester said he anticipated cleanup to begin at a storage site near Akron, Iowa, in March in compliance with a recent agreement reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"I've already worked with the EPA on how we're going to do this," he said.

In a consent agreement filed with the EPA on Nov. 29, Rochester agreed to clean up six sites beginning with the Akron site, post warning signs at all facilities and secure them, annually ship at least three semi-truck loads of used or broken cathode ray tubes and/or containers of leaded glass to an EPA-approved treatment, storage and disposal facility and provide documentation of shipments.

The DNR in March denied renewal of Recyletronics' cathode ray tube recycling permit because of repeated non-compliance with state and federal regulations and ordered him to close the facility. Among the violations the DNR cited were improper outdoor storage of piles of broken leaded and unleaded glass and electronics, lack of documentation of removal or disposal of components containing mercury, stockpiling of materials and no record keeping of shipments of materials into or out of the facility at 1220 Steuben St.

In addition to the stockpiles of waste and materials at the Steuben Street location, state and federal officials have investigated Recycletronics' unauthorized storage of materials at six other locations, including the Scandanavian Building at 1801-03 Fourth St., 3035 Highway 75 North, and 1313 11th St., all in Sioux City; a storage site at 16998 160th St. near Akron; 2301 G St. in South Sioux City, where an estimated 2.2 million pounds of broken glass is stored on a concrete pad; and another South Sioux City site at Foundry Road near G Street, where broken glass has been stored in piles and may have been burned and buried.

After revoking Recycletronics' permit in March, the DNR ordered Recycletronics not to accept additional waste, but evidence shows that it received more waste in June, the lawsuit said.

In August, at the request of the DNR, the state's Environmental Protection Commission referred the case to the Iowa Attorney General's Office, which is capable of seeking harsher punishments than the state agency.

A corporation that owns the South Sioux City property on which the glass is stored had sued Rochester in Dakota County for breach of contract for violating lease agreements, but those lawsuits have been dismissed.

Water tank to tout city as 'Home of Sioux City Sue'

SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City Council has put its stamp of approval on plans to paint "Home of Sioux City Sue" on the side of a prominent water tank in the Singing Hills area. 

All the it needs now is the permission to use the title of the hit 1940s song. 

The Sioux City Council voted 4-0 Monday to accept a $95,640 bid for painting of the exterior of the Singing Hills water storage tank in Sertoma Park. The tank, which is noticeable from the Highway 75 bypass, Interstate 29, Cone Park and Southern Hills Mall, hasn't been repainted since its construction in the mid-1990s. It would be the first to sport a city-funded painting design.

A panel earlier this year recommended putting a reference to "Sioux City Sue," a 1945 folk song by Dick Thomas and Ray Freedman, on the tank as a noticeable feature and marketing opportunity for the city.  

Plans had originally been to display notes to the song on the water tank, but when obtaining the permissions to use the actual notes proved to be too costly, the city opted to instead place generic notes on the tank with a reference to the song. 

A design shared with The Journal Monday evening shows the words "Sioux City" in large letters on the top of the tank, and the words "Sioux City, Home of Sioux City Sue" on the side of the tank, along with the painted notes. 


Shown above are fresh plans to paint the water tank in Singing Hills with musical notes and the words "Home of Sioux City Sue." The paint job will be a nod to a classic 1945 folk song. 

Rick Mach, a special assistant to the city manager, said Woodbury County holds the rights to Sioux City Sue's name.

"If we chose to go ahead with that, we could work with the county," he said.

If all proceeds according to schedule, the project could be completed in October. 

Workers' compensation

In other action, the council voted to approve payment of a $95,759.62 workers' compensation award to former city maintenance worker Gus Theros. 

Theros's claim relates to a Nov. 3, 2005, incident in which he slipped and fell backward while converting the ice floor at the Tyson Events Center to a concrete floor, according to documents filed with the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner. The commissioner ruled in August 2007 that the city pay him weekly disability benefits.

The amount approved Monday is the present value of his remaining benefit entitlement, to be paid in a lump sum.

Assistant City Attorney Connie Anstey said the lump sum will add to the $72,612.54 already paid by the city to Theros and his lawyer.