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Govt-and-politics
Sioux City Council backs Opportunity Zone application

SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City Council on Monday put its support behind the city's application for a new federal program that could attract private investment to low-income portions of the city. 

The council voted 4-0 in favor of applying for eligible city census tracts to be designated as "Opportunity Zones," meaning businesses and property within those areas could receive future investments from "Opportunity Funds" under a new federal program. Councilman Pete Groetken was absent from the meeting. 

Under the program, which is included in the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that was signed into law by President Trump late last year, private investors will receive tax incentives to reinvest their unrealized capital gains into the Opportunity Funds. Those funds will then invest 90 percent of those dollars into the qualifying low-income census tracts.

The Opportunity Zones are intended to draw from the billions of dollars of capital gains in the U.S. as a result of the robust stock market. 

To qualify, the census tracts must have a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater or family income at less than 80 percent of the area's median income. States can nominate up to one-fourth of the qualifying census tracts to the federal government, meaning the city must go through a competitive application process to receive the designation.

Twelve of Sioux City's 22 census tracts are eligible for the program. Applications are due to the state March 19. The state will submit its nominations to the Department of the Treasury by April 20. 

"It's an excellent program," Councilman Dan Moore said during the meeting. "I hope we're successful with at least one, if not two or three (census tracts)."

Moore

After the meeting, Councilman Rhonda Capron said she agreed that it would be a valuable opportunity for the city to build in a positive direction if the application is approved.

KKaufman / Provided 

Capron

"It's just another big plus for the city," she said. 

Cook Park splash pad

The council also voted to award W.A. Klinger LLC a $195,876 bid to construct a splash pad at Cook Park. The 2,301-square-foot splash pad will sit at the site of the former Cook Pool, which closed at the end of summer 2016. 

W.A. Klinger's bid was the lowest of three submitted for the project but was more than $25,000 above the engineer's estimate of $170,000. 

Aldi land sale

In other action, the council voted to set into motion the 30-day notice period to sell a 2.61-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Outer Drive and Floyd Boulevard for a new Aldi grocery store

The expanding discount grocery chain plans to open the store in 2019.


Education
Gausman: Cut in teacher pay preferable to layoffs to balance Sioux City school budget

Blankenship

SIOUX CITY -- Eliminating $1.4 million in supplemental pay to nearly a third of Sioux City's teachers is a more preferable way to close a projected budget deficit than laying off teachers and staff, Superintendent Paul Gausman said Monday.

"It is a fiscally responsive way to balance the budget," Gausman said.

Last week, in the second of two public negotiating sessions with the local union representing the district's teachers, the administration proposed to reduce by $4,792 per year, the extra pay given to 296 middle school and high school teachers who perform additional classroom duties.

Gausman said district leaders were forced to make hard choices in the wake of Iowa lawmakers approving just a 1 percent increase in supplemental state aid for the state's public schools for the 2018-19 academic year. Gausman said the additional revenue, about $940,000, doesn't cover the district's increased costs, with many budget items increasing by around 3 percent.

Gausman and Patty Blankenship, the district's chief financial officer, shared budget details with a Journal reporter Monday afternoon prior to an evening meeting where the school board started work on the tax and spending plan.

Shedding the teacher supplemental pay would close all but around $200,000 of a projected $1.61 million shortfall, Blankenship said. District administrators also recommended two smaller proposed cuts -- $114,000 through eliminating a payment for computer leasing and $65,000 by cutting out two days of work per year for some support staff.

The proposed $200 million budget includes $169.6 million of general fund spending, which is financed by a mix of state aid and local taxes. If approved, the budget would lower the district's property tax rate from $15.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation this year to $15.35 per $1,000 for 2018-19.

Gausman said while the property tax levy may go down by 4 cents per $1,000, the school district's share of property taxes paid by a typical property owner would still go up slightly, since property valuations as a whole have increased as a result of recent reassessments. The taxes paid to the school district by the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would rise by $69, from $876 to $945.

Of the projected $169.6 million in general fund spending, $135.3 million would go to employee salary and benefits. The district employs a combined 1,900 teachers and other staff.

The union, in its opening contract proposal, had proposed a 3.5 percent pay raise for all teachers for the 2018-19 academic year. The district countered with a $100 increase in the base pay scale, and the elimination of the supplemental pay.

Gausman sympathized with the teachers, saying it will be a "challenge" financially for them. But the superintendent pointed out the district is making a substantial concession to the unionized teachers by keeping them on the master salary schedule, where instructors get so-called lane and step additions to pay, depending upon years taught and advanced college degrees. With the changes to Iowa's collective bargaining law last year, many school districts no longer recognized the prior longstanding salary schedules, he noted.

The collective bargaining law now limits mandatory items of negotiation to base salaries for most public employees. An exception is made for unions for public safety workers, who are still allowed to negotiate for both wages and benefits.

Brenda Zahner, director of the Siouxland UniServ group of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents Sioux City teachers, said the extra duty pay comes for tasks covering one period in the eight-period schedule in the six middle and high schools.

"They are not extra courses, simply courses that already exist," Zahner said. "The extra pay comes about because the enrollment in the courses exceeds what there is room for in the schedule. A teacher who can teach the needed class gives up his or her planning period to teach that additional section. What they’re proposing is that all 296 of these teachers will still have to teach these classes, they’ll just have to do it without the additional pay."

Contract negotiations between the two sides are continuing in private sessions.

At Monday's school board meeting, several members of the public spoke out against the proposed cut in supplemental pay, and noted teachers were being unfairly singled out.

"I have not heard of any cuts at the administrative level," Julie Fischer of Sioux City said.

Gausman said he understands there are no good budget-cutting scenarios in a frustrating process.

"We are down to this bad, or this bad, or this bad decision to make," Gausman said, later adding, "It is bad for morale."

Iowa school districts must set their fiscal 2019 budgets by April 15. The Sioux City School Board is expected to discuss the budget again at its March 26 meeting and then formally adopt the plan at its April 9 meeting.


Briefs
Sister Miriam James Heidland named keynote speaker for Bishop's Dinner

SIOUX CITY | Sister Miriam James Heidland of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity will be the keynote speaker for the 22nd annual Bishop's Dinner for Catholic Schools, the Diocese of Sioux City said Monday.

The dinner will be held Oct. 21 at the Sioux City Convention Center. 

Heidland joined the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity after graduating from the University of Nevada-Reno. The society is a missionary community serving global areas. She is known for speaking on the topics of healing, forgiveness, conversion, sports, beauty and authentic love. Her story has been featured by several media outlets.

The Bishop's Dinner is the largest fundraiser for the 16 Catholic school systems throughout Northwest Iowa. All of the proceeds from the dinner are distributed back to the schools in the form of educational enhancement grants. 

Last year's speaker was Creighton University Coach Greg McDermott. The event raised $195,000. 

Tickets to the event go on sale Sept. 3 and can be purchased at scdiocese.org or by calling the diocese at 712-255-7933. 


Blankenship


Local
Teen dies from injuries sustained in Sunday apartment fire

SIOUX CITY -- A 16-year-old died a day after he was severely injured in a Sunday apartment fire in Sioux City. 

Misael Gonzales Velasquez died at the St. Elizabeth Burn and Wound Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, around 3 a.m. Monday, as a result of injuries he sustained at an apartment fire at 2008 Ingleside early Sunday morning. 

Fire crews responded to the apartment around 3:40 a.m. Sunday, and found one apartment engulfed in flames. Occupants were evacuated, but when Sioux City Fire Rescue entered the apartment as the fire was being extinguished, they found Velasquez still inside and removed him. 

He was transported to Mercy Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, and he was resuscitated at least two times before being stabilized and flown to Lincoln. There, he was treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation before he died. 

An investigation into the fire, which displaced some 13 people after the building was red-tagged by the city, is ongoing. No foul play is currently suspected, as the fire is believed to be accidental in nature.

Assistant Chief Dan Cougill said the cause of the fire is known, but will not be released until the Fire Marshal has made a conclusive determination. 

The building itself is likely not a total loss, Cougill said, adding that a restoration company had already arrived at the building on Monday. 


Crime-and-courts
MUGSHOT: Siouxland woman sought by Fugitive Task Force

Johme

Update: Johme was arrested on March 16.


The U.S. Marshals Service Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force is seeking the public's assistance in locating the following person:

* Amber Johme, 26. Johme is 5 feet 4 inches tall and 180 pounds. She is wanted by the Iowa Department of Corrections for parole violation. Johme was on parole for felony possession of methamphetamine. She has numerous tattoos including a rosary on her right wrist and hand.

Anyone with information can call the Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force at 712-252-0211, email siouxlands.mostwanted@usdoj.gov or text the keyword TEN99 and the tip to tip411 (847411).


Moore


KKaufman / Provided 

Capron


Zahner


Gausman