SAC CITY, Iowa | The Rolling Hills Community Service Region Board expressed reluctance about a request from Woodbury County to join the regional mental health consortium during a board meeting Wednesday afternoon in Sac City.
The board declined to even take a vote on the county's request, putting off any decision until the board's next meeting on Dec. 20 or sometime in January.
Woodbury County is set to withdraw from the three-county Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services agency on July 1. Since its inception, Woodbury has been part of Sioux Rivers, which includes Plymouth and Sioux counties.
The Rolling Hills governance board picked through issues about whether the move would be a positive step, in terms of services and budget for delivery of mental health services to low-income people.
But several Rolling Hills board members during the 90-minute discussion at the Sac City Community Center shared substantial concerns about adding Woodbury County, while one board member said there was at least one reason to take in the county.
“There are a lot of things to be resolved,” said Rolling Hills board chairman Rick Hecht, of Sac County.
Woodbury County's recent notice that it planned to withdraw from the Sioux Rivers region came after years of disagreements that began sometime after the agency was formed in July 2014. 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 on June 30, 2018.
Rolling Hills takes in seven smaller counties mostly east of Woodbury -- Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida.
The sole member of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors at the meeting, Jeremy Taylor, said Woodbury must separate from Plymouth and Sioux counties due to a poor working relationship, something he has routinely stated in meetings since summer. By comparison, Taylor told the Rolling Hills board, “We are impressed by your region, impressed by your governance.”
Cecil Blum, of Crawford County, said he appreciated such praise, but he is hesitant to make a change that could impact the rapport of the current seven counties.
“I am somewhat disinclined to accept someone into the agency that could upset the harmony,” Blum said.
Blum and Neil Bock, of Carroll County, shared grave concerns about Woodbury County expanding the region to eight counties. Blum said the Rolling Hills region is made up of rural agriculture counties that might not mesh with Woodbury County, heavily urban by the presence of Sioux City, with a population of more than 100,000.
“Woodbury is just the 180-degree opposite…That gives me pause,” Blum said.
Dennis Bush, of Cherokee County, responded that rural people may think that mental health issues found in a metro area will never be their concern. Bush said, however, that rural Iowa is not immune from such issues, so it would be helpful to have the expertise of mental health programs and providers from Woodbury County, as that spills into Rolling Hills territory.
Taylor shared criticisms of the functioning of Sioux Rivers governance board and, near the end of the meeting, appeared to also question its CEO Shane Walter.
“We want a CEO who has a good reputation within the state,” Taylor said.
Taylor added, “(The Sioux Rivers Board) are hoping at this point, frankly, that Rolling Hills doesn’t accept us, because they want to remain a region (of three).”
“I sympathize a little with Plymouth and Sioux counties…I believe they are fighting for survival,” Blum said.
Bock encouraged Woodbury County to “take your money and your services and try to make it work out” to remain in Sioux Rivers. Bock said the Carroll County Board of Supervisors recently discussed the Woodbury County option and “are pretty reluctant” to add the county.
Hecht was among several board members who raised questions about the possibility of not only Woodbury but also Sioux and Plymouth counties also seeking to join the region if Woodbury exits.
Hecht also said he was concerned that Woodbury County might not enter Rolling Hills with enough money to add to the combined region's coffers.
Taylor said Sioux Rivers board members are dragging their feet and not giving a clear summary of how much money Woodbury County could have on June 30, 2018, once all the fiscal year spending was done. He put the county’s ending year balance in a range from $825,000 to $1.45 million, with perhaps $1.23 million most likely.
“It would be irresponsible for us not to know what that (ending balance) is,” Hecht said.
Three separate votes will be required in order for Woodbury County to join Rolling Hills -- one by the Rolling Hills governance board to forward the topic to the seven county boards of supervisors, a majority vote by those boards, then a final majority vote by the Rolling Hills governing body.
The state of Iowa in 2014 switched from a county-based to a regional method of delivering mental health services to low-income residents. The state calls such regions Mental Health and Disability Services systems, or MHDS regions.
SIOUX CITY | Before being the spiritual pedestals for Sioux City Police Officers to lean on, chaplains Maj. Von Vandiver and Rev. Dan Rupp were in different lines of work.
Vandiver, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was a computer consultant before he and his wife, Linda, became ministers and led the Salvation Army of Siouxland.
"It was a natural disaster that got me to change. My wife was an insurance adjuster, and, in 1993, there was a flood in the Missouri River that devastated St. Louis," Vandiver, 59, said. "We got busy helping to respond to the flood. I was in Arnold, Missouri, and I will never forget this, this guy came in and he was totally destroyed by the flood. I talked to him and gave him a cup of water and a hot dog. I just sensed God saying to me, 'You could do this the rest of your life.' I thought, 'Wow, I think you are right.'"
Rupp, 51, a Sioux City Catholic priest, heard a similar voice early in his life but didn't listen until after he graduated Iowa State University with a degree in electrical engineering.
"When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a priest but that was gone by second grade. I didn't know what I wanted to be, but not a priest. Then in high school, a little call was there but I didn't want anything to do with it," said Rupp, a Cherokee, Iowa, native. "I finally graduated college, and in college, you are always thinking about next year, next semester, next week. Then finally you sit down and you work. And I asked, 'Could I see myself retiring as an engineer, yeah, I suppose I could. I liked my job, I enjoyed my work, good money. But should I retire as an engineer? Oh boy, no. Then the thought of being a priest came back, and I thought here I go again. But I realized, it is not a curse, it is a blessing. I was just uncooperative for a while."
As Sioux City Police chaplains, Vandiver and Rupp are always on-call to tend to the needs of the members of the department, from personal struggles at home to job-related incidents.
"This can be anything from the death or serious injury of an officer to a traumatic incident or major call for service that would result in a critical incident debrief," Police Chief Rex Mueller said. "We rely on them for a lot of the same duties that a church would rely on a pastor. The fact that our chaplains are willing to take on this task for no compensation is a testament to their leadership and desire to help others."
Vandiver has been a department chaplain since 2014. Rupp filled a recent opening, succeeding the Rev. Michael Erpelding, a Catholic priest, in October after Erpelding was reassigned to parishes outside Sioux City.
Von and Linda Vandiver have been leading the Salvation Army of Siouxland since 2008. He was offered the chaplain position after his involvement in an emergency preparedness group with the police department.
"I call it a ministry of presence," Vandiver said. "I've met most of the officers through a training class or whatever, they know I'm here. It's not somebody saying, 'Go talk to the chaplain, now' or anything like that. I'm just going to be there if they need me."
Rupp is a cleric for the Mater Dei Parish in Sioux City that includes the Immaculate Conception Parish and the Nativity Parish. He got in contact with the department through his hair stylist, whose husband in on the force.
"I have a great respect for our police officers," said Rupp, who noted he has not yet counseled an officer. "I'm happy to help any way I can."
Vandiver said the most prominent occurrence his job was needed was with the unexpected death of natural causes of Sgt. Jay Fleckenstein in April 2015.
"The department took it hard, a 39-year-old just went home after work and just drops dead. That was tough for them," Vandiver recalled. "But in a strange way, I like doing funerals. As a minister, people are not really interested in spiritual things, but when you are confronted with death ... particularly an unexpected one -- I think people want to know is there a heaven, and not just, 'Is this it?' I like, in a perverse way, to comfort them during those times."
Both chaplains said the best way to strengthen a person in need is through listening.
"I always tell them, I don't give advice unless they specifically ask for that. I'm here to listen," Vandiver said.
"Of course, listen, listen, listen, is the most important thing" Rupp interjected.
Vandiver continued, "(police officers) are a very closed group of people, they trust other officers and it's hard for them to share anything with somebody outside the organization. So I am just here to listen."
The chaplains earn a badge and a jacket for their contribution to the department (even though Rupp hasn't received one yet, he laughed.)
Mueller applauded their devotion to helping the department.
"Police officers deal with people in crisis and see horrible things on a daily basis. Having some spiritual guidance and leadership inside the police department is extremely important," the police chief said. "This gives our officers and staff a place to turn to when dealing with the many stresses that come with police work. Because of what is expected of us as we carry out our duties, we sometimes fail to appropriately deal with all of the trauma we experience. Since our chaplains are familiar to our officers, it can help open those lines of communication."
SIOUX CITY | Sioux City has ceased billing three sister cities with an additional service charge for sewage treatment after discovering that the charge had already been figured into the cities' bills.
Sioux City in July had begun billing what it said was a long-overlooked 7 percent service charge to North Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff and South Sioux City, which each have years-old sewage agreements with Sioux City for use of the regional treatment plant.
The charge, which covers administrative costs, is outlined in the text of the agreements but, according to an audit, had gone un-billed for years. At the direction of city officials, city staff had notified each sister city earlier this year to inform them it had decided to move forward with charging the additional amount.
But the cities took issue, saying they believed the charge was already included in the bills, that their budgets were unprepared for the charge and, in some cases, that such a charge could require rate increases for their residents. City leaders said the new charge would cost their cities thousands of dollars each year.
The cities collectively held off on paying it as they pursued discussions with Sioux City through their attorneys to reach a consensus.
Sioux City utilities director Mark Simms told the Journal Wednesday that additional research uncovered a nearly four-decade-old document that showed that service charge was actually folded into the existing rates.
"The best we can tell, it was built into the rates when they did a rate study in the late 1970s, and it's built into some of the charges," he said. "It was difficult for us to find that."
Simms said after that discovery, the city notified the cities that it had made a mistake and would not be proceeding with the additional charge.
North Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff and South Sioux City received notification from the city earlier this month acknowledging the charge was already included and that the additional charge has been dropped.
"That's been our position all along, that the 7 percent charge was on top of the 7 percent we'd already been paying," said North Sioux City Administrator Ted Cherry, who added he was glad the issue has been resolved.
Sergeant Bluff City Administrator Aaron Lincoln mentioned the resolution Tuesday evening during the City Council meeting. He said the cities have also met collectively with city officials to encourage more open communication on big-picture wastewater treatment issues.
South Sioux City administrator Lance Hedquist told the Journal he believes the cities came to an amiable resolution.
Sioux City also has a sewage treatment agreement with Dakota Dunes, which was not affected by the error.