Legislators highlight land practices, rural EMS funding

Sen. Dan Zumbach and Sen. Carrie Koelker (Photos by Kim Brooks)

Rep. Lee Hein and Rep. Andy McKean
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Economic Development hosted all four area-legislators in Monticello on March 8 for a legislative forum: Rep. Lee Hein, Rep. Andy KcKean, Sen. Dan Zumbach, and Sen. Carrie Koelker.

     The room filled quickly with over 30 people in attendance.

     One of the major topics of the afternoon centered on House File 542 and Senate Study Bill 1221, both dealing with conservation and outdoor recreation in Iowa.

     To some people’s delight, HF 542 was voted down and failed to progress. The bill would have hampered private landowners from providing conservation services on their land.

     However, Senate Study Bill 1221 is still alive.

     Dave Tabor asked the legislators for their thoughts on the bill. He also stated that if the state is not happy with the way the DNR is caring for its land, or lack thereof, than perhaps more funding is needed for the DNR.

     “The information that was provided to me was that the DNR’s budget is 2009 was $22 million. This budget year it’s been cut down to $11.17 million,” stated Tabor. “So when we talk about that, maybe there is some blame to be shared among people on why that land is not being taken care of quite as well as it was in the past.”

     Zumbach said both the House and Senate bills on this issue were very different from each other.

     All four legislators agreed that HF 542 was restrictive.

     However, Zumbach said the tax credits and funding streams people utilize to sell their private land for public use should be one in the same for all. While the tax credit will remain, which is a good thing, Zumbach said the revolving loan fund could change.

     “The only thing with the bill that just past out of committee is saying that they have to borrow their money from the same sources that every private entity has to borrow their money from,” explained Zumbach. “If you’re going to compete in land purchases, you’re going to compete on a level playing field.”

     McKean, who has been a champion for rural Iowa and economic development, wants to see those recreational opportunities remain for young Iowans, and as a way to attract more people to Iowa.

     “I do think that tax credit for donations for public land is a very important tax credit. It helps encourage that we need for recreation and environmental purposes,” he said.

     “I think we need to take a look at our economic development policies in the State of Iowa. We need to be spending a lot more energy and emphasis on some of these quality of life issues: recreational trails, cultural opportunities, etc.”

     Hein said both bills “spurred a lot of conversation.” Though, he would like to see better land practices. Both Hein and McKean felt there were some ways in which the DNR could bring in funding for themselves versus always asking the state for funding.

     Koelker, who has a passion for economic development from her career prior to serving in the Senate, agreed with McKean. “Economic development and agriculture are all important to our economy. I represent rural Iowa; that’s the ag industry. But we also want to keep rural Iowa open for economic development and foster life for our communities so they’re attractive for young people to live. We need to find a component that’s a win-win for all.”

     In terms of funding the DNR, Zumbach explained it’s not a clean-cut issue. The top two biggest entities that receive state funding are Education and Health and Human Services. “And everybody else fights over the rest,” he said. “Other budgets have demands. Other budgets get squeezed. Where the budget ends for the DNR, that’s kind of the squeezing process.”

     McKean said the DNR should be properly funded if the state is going to expect that they manage their properties better.

     “I think we need to give more support to our DNR. The cuts that have been made have been draconian for that body,” said McKean, quite passionately. “If people want to complain about public lands not being kept up as well as they should be, maybe we should be taking a look at giving a little more support to the agency that is in charge of that.”

     Rod Smith, also in attendance, asked why the state hasn’t implemented the IWILL (Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy) initiative when, in 2009, 67 percent of the voters in Iowa supported it.

     “Nine years later, nothing as moved forward,” Smith said. “Why hasn’t it progressed?”

     The legislators all agreed it is needed, but an initiative like IWILL take some time to get through all of those affected/impacted it.

     Hein also took time to thanks Jones Regional Medical Center CEO Eric Briesemeister on his passion for funding rural EMS services.

     House Study Bill 191, which passed out of Public Safety, will increase (double) the fines for excessive moving violations (traffic tickets), with a portion going to fund rural ambulance services.

     “It has my vote,” said Hein. “Hopefully it will significantly bring us some dollars, but get someone’s attention to slow down.

     “I give all the credit to Eric,” continued Hein. “He came up with the idea. I’ve just been pushing it. I know we have enough support to get it out of the House.”

     McKean, Zumbach and Koelker all said they would support the measure as well.

     “We heard loud and clear from rural EMS. I’m looking forward to seeing it over in the Senate,” said Koelker.



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