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Sioux City Mayor Scott charges county paramedics plan over-taxes city residents

SIOUX CITY | Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said Woodbury County officials should reconsider a new plan to fund the addition of paramedics to serve rural areas, saying it relies too heavily on taxation of Sioux City residents.

“I’m all for the small towns getting that coverage, but just not for the citizens of Sioux City to pay twice," Scott said.

On Jan. 23, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors approved the concept of a plan where two paramedics will be added in Woodbury County after July 1. The plan will increase from one to three the number of paramedics in the county's Emergency Services Department.

The plan showed the $233,516 cost for three paramedics for fiscal year 2018-19 will be split from two county property tax funds --  with $116,758 coming from each the Rural Basic Fund that only rural residents pay into and also the General Basic Fund, which people who live in towns pay towards.

The plan was needed after Siouxland Paramedics ended its 911 service on Dec. 31. County officials worried there would not be enough paramedics to treat patients in rural areas of the county.

Scott said it seems every time the county doesn’t want to raise the rural levy, they shift some costs to the General Basic Fund that all county residents pay into, so as a result Sioux City residents are paying for some law enforcement and paramedic services twice. Scott said that has been the case for county deputies in the Sheriff’s Office, although they do handle some tasks in Sioux City.

“They keep moving deputies over (to be funded by the General Basic Fund), every time, so they don’t have to raise the (rural levy). It’s ridiculous. They need to stop. We pay for a police department," Scott said.

Woodbury County Board Chairman Rocky De Witt said Scott should remember the Sheriff's Office just doesn't patrol rural areas. De Witt added that office personnel serve court papers and subpoenas countywide, but those are "more often inside of Sioux City than outside."

De Witt said "there will always seem to be disparities when levying for service," and reminded that rural residents pay into funds that city of Sioux City officials tap.

"The board does not represent only the rural portion of the county, we have the entire county in mind when applying a levy or service," De Witt said.

"Another thing to consider is that rural residents do a majority of their shopping for groceries, autos, appliances, purchases large and small in Sioux City, where sales taxes, fees and other surcharges are collected, which land in city coffers and not the county coffers."

The Taxpayer Research Council watchdog group doesn't like the county funding plan. TRC executive director Taylor Goodvin said, "It is disappointing that city tax payers, who are already stretched thin, are now being asked to help fund services at the county level that will primarily be used by citizens outside of Sioux City limits."

Scott said Sioux City will not benefit from the county’s Emergency Services Division.

“Why are we paying for ambulance service twice?" Scott said.

DeWitt said Scott may assert that county paramedics are likely to never be used by city residents, but that is not the case.

"No one really knows who or when a resident may need a paramedic. County EMS will respond to emergencies for city residents out in the county," De Witt said.

Scott said he hopes De Witt will speak with him on the issue, ideally to change the funding method. If they can’t come to a solution, Scott said he believes a citizen will bring a protest to the budget, and perhaps that may be him.

“If we can’t work something out, somebody’s going to look at that (protesting the budget), even if it’s myself,” Scott said.

Goodvin said Scott's stance on the issue is correct.

"We ask the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors to fund these very important and needed services at the level they are most used, the rural levy," Goodvin said.

Scott and many other county mayors liked the previous county plan that was lengthily aired on Jan. 16.

Under the proposal, the county would have designated a tax of 19 cents per $1,000 of property valuation in its General Basic Fund to generate the funding source for 3¾ paramedic positions and associated medical supplies.

In all, that taxation plan would have raised $812,831, and of that amount, $288,365 would go for the new county paramedics. The remaining amount, or $524,466, would be given back to the city of Sioux City, as a rebate back to the city to help finance Sioux City Fire Rescue's EMS division.

GALLAGHER: Dream season ends shy of goal for Sibley-Ocheyedan wrestler

INWOOD, Iowa | Some 672 Iowa prep wrestlers reached their dream on Saturday.

That's how many competitors earned a berth in this week's Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Sadly, the dreams for that same number of grapplers -- 672 -- ended on Saturday, their season coming to a close with a third- or fourth-place finish at the District wrestling meet, short of a state tourney bid.

Mario Martinez, a junior at Sibley-Ocheyedan, had high hopes for Saturday's competition. The novice wrestler took a 37-10 record into the competition at 113 pounds. Unfortunately, he also took a sprained right ankle, an injury he sustained while practicing with a teammate after school on Friday.

"It's swelled and it hurts," Martinez said, glancing down at a puffed up right ankle not long after he lost by injury default in a consolation match to Brackett Locke of Woodbury Central.

It hurts. Those two words hung in the air, occupying a corner spot in the West Lyon High School gymnasium where Martinez sat, far removed from the action on the mat, alone in his thoughts, a bag of ice soothing his injury, not his emotions.

"I did not make it to State," he said, managing a whisper of a smile.

He gathered his thoughts as the action wore on, fans from schools like West Sioux and Sibley-Ocheyedan rising to their feet in the bleachers above him, urging their competitors to finish the job.

For Martinez, it sometimes seems like the job's just begun. Coach Ben Strandberg, a history teacher at Sibley-Ocheyedan, noticed Martinez as he walked through the halls in the fall of 2016. He joined Doyle Naig, a longtime coach at Sibley-Ocheyedan, in approaching Martinez to give the sport a try.

The trouble? Martinez came to Sibley just a couple of years before this, he and his family arriving from Guatemala in search of work, which his mother, Maria Niz, found at a local processing plant. Martinez was still learning English. He knew nothing about wrestling.

"We didn't have any little guys," Strandberg said. "Mario was small and athletic."

Interpreter Jackie Garcia, a paraprofessional at the high school, explained the sport to Mario's mother. Her reaction? She thought it was more about fighting than wrestling. She had her doubts, they said.

Plus, Mario was needed at home. His mother works late, which means the older siblings often take care of the two younger children at home, including an 18-month-old.

"I help my little brother, who is in middle school, with homework sometimes," Mario said. "And I make tortillas for us to eat."

He also helps put his little brother and sister to bed before their mother gets home.

"They're a very close family," said Strandberg. "They really support each other."

And the same goes for the Generals and their supporters, who have rallied around their Mario ever since he decided to give the sport a try. His mother was able to attend just one meet this year, the Sectional tournament held last Saturday.

"I have met a lot of friends in wrestling and it is fun to work to complete my goals," Mario said. "Being on this team has helped me learn English."

"Our crowd goes crazy when Mario gets a win or a pin," Standberg said.

Mario's presence has helped sharpen the coach, too. He and his assistant coaches sometimes pantomime a move in their corner to get Mario to understand what they want him to do. Simply yelling the name of a move or a combination, you see, might not translate at this stage of his wrestling career.

"In my first match last year, I was confused," Mario said with a light laugh. "I didn't know what I was doing and I got pinned."

He kept at it, though, and fashioned a 24-22 mark that ended with an appearance in the State Dual Meet Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena, a highlight he'll never forget.

"I think half of Mario's losses in his first year took place before Christmas," Strandberg said. "He learned more and more and just kept improving."

Strandberg figured his 113-pounder, holder of a 37-10 record, was a pretty good bet to advance from Districts this year. That was, until late Friday, when he turned his ankle.

Ultimately, Mario Martinez's 2018 dream was taken down by Hinton's Aiden Christiansen and an injury. Christiansen finished second on Saturday behind undefeated Adam Allard, a sophomore from West Sioux who seeks to add a second state championship to his glossy resume.

If he can, Martinez will report to the wrestling room on Monday to offer what muscle he might in order to keep other Generals like Jose Flores (106 pounds) and Trey Schuck (126 pounds) in shape for their state-tournament runs.

The fact he doesn't have one this year left him feeling a bit down and out and by himself in the corner of an otherwise raucous gymnasium.

Martinez summed up the thoughts of 671 other non-qualifiers who finished this season just shy of their goal.

"It hurts," he said.


U.S. Attorneys collect millions in fines, settlements

SIOUX CITY | In February 2017, a now-closed Le Mars, Iowa, nursing home agreed to pay a $100,000 fine to the federal government to settle allegations that it had violated federal laws.

In April, Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City entered an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in which the health care provider agreed to pay a $316,522 settlement for overbilling Medicare recipients for hospital admissions that were medically unnecessary and should have been billed at a lower reimbursement rate.

The cases are two of many in the past fiscal year that saw the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa collect more than $5.48 million in civil and criminal actions, which include fines or settlements to punish offenders and reclaim taxpayer dollars that federal agencies lost to fraud.

"We take seriously our duty to collect money owed to taxpayers and crime victims. Our total collections over the past fiscal year, once again, exceeded the total amount of our direct budget. Our entire office is committed to holding wrongdoers financially responsible for their actions and sending the message that crime doesn't pay," Peter Deegan, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, said in a news release announcing the collection totals.

Of the more than $5.48 million collected in fiscal year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, the Northern District of Iowa collected more than $1.9 million in criminal actions and more than $3.58 in civil actions.

The U.S. Attorney in Nebraska collected more than $5.1 million in fiscal year 2017. In South Dakota, the U.S. Attorney's Office collected more than $2.5 million.

Overall, the U.S. Justice Department collected more than $15 billion.

The amount of money in fines and settlements collected by the Justice Department might come as a surprise to many taxpayers, said Matt Cole, an assistant U.S. Attorney and supervisor of the Northern District of Iowa's Monetary Penalties Unit.

"I do think it's not something people realize until the end of the year when you add the totals up," Cole said.

In the Northern District of Iowa, basically made up of the northern half of the state, two attorneys and two paralegals oversee and enforce collections of penalties, fines and restitution.

Most of the money collected comes from civil penalties or fraud cases, Cole said. In those cases, individuals or companies are being fined or paying settlements of violations of federal health, safety, civil rights or environmental laws. That money is returned to the agencies or state or local agencies that also may have been involved in the case.

Criminal collections -- restitution, fines and assessments -- are paid to the Justice Department's Crime Victims Fund, which ultimately returns the money to crime victims. The money collected also funds victims programs and awarded via grants to states.

In addition to the nearly $5.5 million collected in civil and criminal actions, the Northern District of Iowa collected more than $1.64 million in forfeiture of assets -- cash and property such as cars and houses bought with income from illegal activity -- that were seized by law enforcement and later auctioned off. Proceeds of those forfeiture sales go to crime victims and state and local agencies for case-related expenses and law enforcement training, Cole said.