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Rolling Hills delays decision on Woodbury County membership until March

SAC CITY, Iowa | With financial questions continuing to be a concern, the Rolling Hills Community Service Region Governance Board on Wednesday put off a decision on whether to add Woodbury County.

After four months of deliberations, the eight-member regional agency still hasn’t made a decision on Woodbury County's application. That's left the county in limbo about which regional agency will be delivering mental health services to low-income and disabled individuals beginning July 1. That’s the date Woodbury County is set to part ways with the three-county Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services, after four years of growing pains with Sioux and Plymouth counties.

After a robust discussion at the December meeting, the Rolling Hills board postponed a vote. The key factor then and now remains pinpointing how much money Woodbury County could bring into the agency in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Rolling Hills Board Chairman Rick Hecht and the group's CEO Dawn Mentzer said the next board meeting will take place on March 5, in Sac City. Hecht  believes enough discussions have been held, so an up-or-down vote on Woodbury County will happen then.

“The determination will be made,” said Hecht, a Sac County supervisor.

Hecht praised the “very thorough” look by board members at the pros and cons of adding Woodbury County to Rolling Hills, which contains the smaller, rural counties of Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida.

Woodbury County Supervisors Jeremy Taylor and Rocky De Witt and county Finance Director Dennis Butler attended Wednesday's meeting in Sac City.

After the meeting, De Witt, the board chairman, said while more questions need to be addressed, he is "very optimistic on a yes vote" at the March meeting.

Hecht said the Woodbury County officials and Rolling Hills members both understand that neither side could look to the other to provide a financial windfall for services. How much each side would provide in property taxes from a mental health levy remains a sticking point, he added.

“Basically, the entire discussion evolved around finances, and I need to provide an additional budget presentation (in March), so that they can make an informed decision,” Mentzer said.

Woodbury County has been a member of Sioux Rivers since 2014, following the state's decision to switch from a county-based to a regional approach for  delivering mental health services. The state calls such regions Mental Health and Disability Services systems, or MHDS regions.

Late last year, Sioux and Plymouth county representatives on the Sioux Rivers board voted against Woodbury's formal request to leave the region at the end of the current fiscal year.

At the Rolling Hills board meeting in November, members picked through issues about whether the move would be a positive step, in terms of services and finances for delivery of mental health services. Several Rolling Hills board members shared substantial concerns about adding Woodbury County, while one board member said it would be a positive step to accept the county.

Mentzer said Wednesday a positive point of adding Woodbury County is that "they double our size without changing the geographic footprint to a great extent."

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 


Sioux City snow plows hitting more residential streets Wednesday

SIOUX CITY | Motorists continued to experience slippery starts and stops on snow-covered stretches of street Wednesday as Sioux City continued to dig out from underneath more than a foot of snow

Public Works director Dave Carney said Wednesday afternoon city crews were making progress plowing priority three, or residential, streets throughout the afternoon. He said residents who had seen little clearing on their streets could expect more soon as crews worked through the evening and overnight hours on those roads.

The city has been running 24-hour snow removal since Monday's blizzard. Carney said about 80 employees, including plow drivers and mechanics, have been split between the two 12-hour shifts and running dozens of machines at a time.

The city’s fleet includes 17 plows with spreaders, 11 plows, eight front-end loaders and six road graders.

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One challenging aspect of Sunday night and Monday's snowfall, he said, was an early rain and rain-sleet mix that caused the first few inches to compact on the street. Traffic driving over that had made the bottom layer even more solid, he said.

"That made it a tough 2 inches to get to," he said. "The plows were almost just bouncing off."

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

A snow plow travels along Transit Avenue Wednesday. City crews worked to finish clearing residential streets, two days after a blizzard blanketed the city with more than 12 inches of snow.

Carney said some afternoon sunshine, combined with salt that crews had put down Tuesday, was beginning to take effect.

The city has hired contractors to start clearing the towering snow windrows over the next few days. Carney said he expected work to begin on clearing Morningside Avenue's windrows overnight Wednesday, with crews moving on to downtown Thursday night and Friday. 

Driving conditions proved challenging for some government vehicles Wednesday, with reports of at least one snow plow and school bus becoming stuck in the snow. A Sioux City Community School District spokeswoman declined to comment whether the district had any trouble with bus routes after taking two days off due to weather. 

Sioux City Transit driver supervisor Rick Scott said that after shutting down Monday, the buses were able to run on the majority of their routes Tuesday afternoon and were back on all of their routes Wednesday.

He said the morning commute was slow-going on some routes, and buses had to shut down for an hour between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. to catch back up. He said two buses have become stuck over the past two days, but there have been no accidents. 

As streets crews continue to work 'round-the-clock to clear the roads, the exact financial impact of the snow removal effort remains unknown.

The city has budgeted more than $1.4 million for snow and ice control during the fiscal year that ends June 30. As of Wednesday morning, city finance director Donna Forker said the city had used $551,266, much of which is chemicals the city buys in bulk to use during the season.

Tim Hynds Sioux City Journal 

A Sioux City Community School District bus gets stuck in snow while picking up students along its route on West 5th Street near Ross in Sioux City Wednesday morning. Many of Sioux City's streets were still clogged with snow and snowbound cars following the Sunday night and Monday blizzard that dumped a foot of snow on the city. 

Forker said she won't know the full cost of the storm until February, after the workers are paid for their overtime during the current pay period. She added that significantly more snow doesn't necessarily mean a significantly higher cost than a smaller storm because the crews are already mobilized. 

Sioux City remains under a snow emergency that was declared by Mayor Bob Scott Sunday afternoon. During a snow emergency, no parking is allowed along emergency snow routes. 

Drivers parking along the street are instructed to park on the side of the street with odd-numbered addresses on odd days of the week, and the side with even-numbered addresses on even-numbered days. Motorists are asked to switch sides at 7 a.m. each day to allow plows to access the opposite side of the street. No parking is permitted in no-parking zones. 

Those violating the ordinance can be assessed a $30 fine. 

Carney said compliance so far with the city’s snow emergency policy had been "hit or miss." The city sent out a reminder Wednesday of the snow emergency guidelines. 

Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

A snowmobile rider enjoys the fresh snow west of Wahpehton in the Iowa Great Lakes on Wednesday. Twelve to 14 inches of snow covered the area on Monday, creating great conditions for fun-seekers attending the 38th annual University of Okoboji Winter Games Thursday through Sunday.

Jim Lee Sioux City Journal 

Rivalry Renewed

USD, SDSU battle in Summit League play. SPORTS B1

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