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Rolling Hills agency board votes to add Woodbury County

HOLSTEIN, Iowa -- After months of deliberation, the Rolling Hills Community Service Region Governance Board voted Wednesday to add Woodbury County as an eighth county to the mental health agency.

However, in a piece that wasn’t expected, the region’s board members in the 5-2 vote said Woodbury County should be added one year later than previously discussed, on July 1, 2019, rather than in 2018. For now, that change could make for an unclear limbo year for Woodbury County, in terms of what region the county fits within.

That also doesn't mean Woodbury County will ultimately be in Rolling Hills by 2019. The process is that three separate votes are required in order for Woodbury County to join Rolling Hills -- one taken Wednesday by the Rolling Hills board to forward the recommendation to the seven county boards of supervisors, a majority vote by those boards over the next few weeks, then a final majority vote by the Rolling Hills governing body.

Therefore, the Rolling Hills board will meet on March 20 to create the resolution that the seven county boards will vote on. Once that goes to the counties within roughly the next 60 days, the expectation is that they will vote on it within 30 more days, meaning a final resolution could take up to another three months.

“This has taken a long time…It took a long time because we did a good job, our due diligence,” said Rolling Hills Board Chairman Rick Hecht, of Sac County.

Also, if Woodbury County moves into Rolling Hills, a projection showed the amount the county gets from property taxes to pay for mental health will be substantially higher. In statistics obtained by the Journal prior to the meeting, Woodbury County would have provided roughly half the budget for the regional agency in fiscal year 2018-19.

For several months, there has been a high degree of uncertainty on which regional agency will be delivering mental health services to low-income and disabled individuals and other people in Woodbury County 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.

Woodbury County officials have described a poor working relationship with Plymouth and Sioux counties, which they say has necessitated an exit from Sioux Rivers.

In its place, Woodbury County has applied for membership in the Rolling Hills Community Service Region, a mental health group that includes seven counties to the east -- Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida. Some Rolling Hills board members had questions on whether Woodbury County, with a large metro area including Sioux City, would be a good fit in Rolling Hills, which has more rural, small population counties.

After a robust discussion at the December and January meetings, the Rolling Hills board members -- the board has one member from each of the seven counties -- postponed a vote. The key factor involved pinpointing how much money Woodbury County could bring into the agency in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Woodbury County Supervisors Jeremy Taylor and county Finance Director Dennis Butler attended the Wednesday meeting in Holstein. Taylor said he would have preferred the step approved Wednesday would have been effective this summer rather than 2019, but he was nonetheless gratified.

“I am optimistic and I am very hopeful. It shows why this region is so well run and respected,” Taylor said.

With the switch on the timeline Wednesday, it is unclear what region Woodbury County will be in for 2018-19. Taylor said there is “uncertainty” on whether it is possible the county could stay in Sioux Rivers, and it will likely take input from the Iowa Department of Human Resources, which led the state's decision to switch from a county-based to a regional approach for delivering mental health services in 2014.

Representatives from Cherokee, Calhoun, Sac, Buena Vista and Ida counties voted to add Woodbury County, while those from Carroll and Crawford counties opposed it.

The board members said slowing the process down to a 2019 inclusion of Woodbury County made the most sense. Hecht said having a larger region would be a benefit overall, in terms of services and finances.

Paul Merten, of Buena Vista County, said, “I think we can do this. At the beginning, we started with five counties,” then added Ida and Cherokee counties.

Cecil Blum, of Crawford County, and Neil Bock, of Carroll County, spoke against Woodbury County. Blum gave six reasons of opposition, including that “the inclusion of Woodbury County will interject drama,” and “could undermine the positive relationship we have with the providers.”

Kim Keleher, director of a mental health institution in the region and chairwoman of the Rolling Hills Advisory Board, said she had surveyed all 22 mental health providers in the seven counties about the possibility of adding Woodbury County. Keleher said just over half of the agencies responded, and the repeated answer was “a lot of concerns…that it will cause chaos.”

Said Hecht, “This has been a difficult process, to determine what is best for us, because that is our charge, what is best for everyone.”

Woodbury County has been a member of Sioux Rivers since 2014. 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.

The group's CEO, Dawn Mentzer, of Buena Vista County, told the Journal the full budget for all combined counties without Woodbury County would be $3,467,650 for FY 2018-19, and the amount with Woodbury County would be $6,780,703.

Counties belonging to each region pool their property tax revenues into a combined budget to pay for expenses throughout the group. The property tax levy that can be set for any Iowa county in Rolling Hills is capped at $42.79 per capita, while the current max levy for Woodbury County is $30.49 in Sioux Rivers.

The current year Woodbury County levy amount is $17.58 per capita. Taylor recently said the levy rate would likely be going higher as well by FY 2019-20, even if Woodbury County stayed in Sioux Rivers.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the mental health levies were based on $1,000 of property valuation, rather than per capita.

Mock homicide provides learning opportunity
Crime scene gives USD students hands-on police experience

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Mike Burgeson is a hands-on learner, someone who grasps new concepts by doing them rather than reading or being told about them.

When Burgeson was developing the syllabus for the Essentials of Policing class he would be teaching at the University of South Dakota, he realized he didn't want to just stand in front of his students during each class session and talk or show pictures of police work.

He needed some kind of hands-on activity for his students, especially if he was going to teach them about how to process a crime scene.

It only made sense, then, to set up a homicide scene and turn the students loose.

"What better way of doing this than getting them involved and doing a real crime scene. It's brainstorming from what we do in the real world brought into the classroom here, just on a different scale," said Burgeson, an adjunct instructor who is also a Yankton Police Department lieutenant.

In the front office of the Farber House on the USD campus, a mannequin lies face down on the floor in a small pool of blood. There's a gun and two bullet casings on the floor and two bullet wounds visible in the back of the "victim," who's still clutching a small bag of what's portrayed as a controlled substance. Empty beer cans litter the floor. On the desk is a suicide note that students will determine is not in the victim's handwriting.

nickhytrek / Nick Hytrek, Sioux City Journal 

A mannequin serving as a homicide victim lies in the office at Farber House on the University of South Dakota campus. The mannequin is part of a crime scene adjunct instructor Mike Burgeson set up for his Essentials of Policing students to learn the basics of crime scene processing.

"Obviously there were two people here. He was drinking with somebody, we don't know who, and a fight breaks out," Burgeson said. "It's meant to look like a suicide, but we know it's a homicide."

When the students return from spring break next week, they'll enter the room on their own time and process the scene as Burgeson has discussed with them during their once-weekly class.

Students will dust for fingerprints, collect DNA evidence, take photographs of the scene and process the information. They can't remove any of the evidence, but they'll be able to test duplicates in a lab at the Farber House, the former home of the late USD professor William O. "Doc" Farber, the longtime chairman of the political science department who willed the house to the department for use for faculty, student research and temporary quarters for visiting academics.

The students' job isn't necessarily to solve the crime, but to learn how to work at a crime scene and collect evidence. They'll submit their photos and write a case report. At the conclusion of the class, two or three will be called to testify at a mock trial about their collection methods and findings.

"They walk out of there with the knowledge of this is what it's all about. It's not gun fights and car chases every day. This is where crimes are solved," Burgeson said.

There are many aspects of a real crime scene investigation Burgeson said he isn't able to duplicate, but the exercise teaches students the basic concepts. For many of them, it will be the first time they've touched fingerprint powder or handled DNA.

Burgeson figures the experience, no matter how basic, gives his students a leg up on the competition when it comes time to apply for real jobs. Most new law enforcement officers are hired without ever having seen a crime scene, real or staged. Burgeson said new officers often don't get that training until attending a law enforcement academy.

But with hands-on experience like they're getting at USD, Burgeson said students will be better job candidates.

"We're making better officers to start with," he said.

nickhytrek / Nick Hytrek, Sioux City Journal 

Police tape marks off a crime scene set up in the University of South Dakota's Farber House. The crime scene is used by USD adjunct instructor Mike Burgeson to teach his students the basics in processing crime scenes.

Burgeson taught the class for the first time last year and set up a crime scene with a different scenario. The lesson kept the students interested, and it seemed to help topics discussed in the classroom sink in.

"The kids really like the hands-on piece," Burgeson said. "It's better than sitting in a classroom."

Construction on new 1,600-seat Sioux City Heelan gym to start next month

SIOUX CITY -- Construction is slated to begin next month on a new Bishop Heelan High School gymnasium that will replace the cramped older gym that Crusaders fans affectionately called "The Pit."

School leaders said Thursday the $3 million project is anticipated for completion in December, about a month into Heelan's 2018-19 basketball season. The new 1,600-seat gym, which will connect to the new academic wing that opened in January, also will host home volleyball and wrestling meets, as well as physical education classes, pep assemblies, regional show choir competitions and other special programs.

“We are thrilled to deliver this great news to our Heelan family and the broader Siouxland community,” Heelan’s Interim CEO Timm Funk said at a news conference at the school.

Funk thanked donors for their generosity, which also helped launch the new high school, which replaced the old 1949 building.

“We are blessed with a dedicated group of benefactors who share and support our faith-based mission emphasizing academic achievement, excellence in the arts and Heelan’s long-standing tradition of outstanding athletics," Funk said.

Funk noted the gym’s top-loading design means people will enter at the top and descend the steps to sit in the bleachers.

Bret Hayworth / Provided 

This is an aerial sketch of the new gymnasium that will be built onto Bishop Heelan Catholic High School in Sioux City by December 2018.

The gym will also feature a running and walking track looping the top of the gym, similar to Newman-Flanagan arena at Briar Cliff University. Included in the gym will be girls and boys locker rooms, athletic training and first aid room, coaches offices, locker rooms for game officials and referees and athletic equipment storage area.

Tom Betz, Heelan's executive director of advancement, said that after years of active fundraising, numerous Heelan projects are nearing completion.

“We are now officially in the home stretch and able to shift our focus from the gymnasium to raising the final half million dollars needed to complete a strength and conditioning facility,  which will be adjacent to the gymnasium,” Betz said.

It has been a bountiful construction era at Heelan. The new gym comprises a third phase of a $30 million investment in the high school campus just north of downtown.

A new fine arts wing that cost $15 million opened in 2014,  and it now connects to the academic wing, which began holding classes on Jan. 5, after being built for $12 million.

The high school academic wing gives news classrooms, administration offices, a counseling center and chaplain offices more than 55,000 square feet. In addition, it contains significant upgrades in technology connections, plus lecture and science labs and learning centers in which students can conduct group work.

Students have continued using "The Pit" while attending classes at the new high school.

Kevin E. Schmidt, Associated Press 

Sioux City East's Sam Hildahl (50) puts the ball up during first half game action against Cedar Falls.