by Chanse Hall
On Monday, August 22, the Ringgold County Board of Supervisors met with the Ringgold County Conservation Board to discuss the American Relief Plan Act (ARPA) funding that has been denied by the Board of Supervisors just a few months after having been approved by the ARPA funding committee.
ARPA funds were delivered to counties in two separate allotments of $475,301 each.
On October, 4, 2021 the supervisors approved expenditures from the first allotment that included $60,000 towards water and sewer at Liberty Lake.
Also included in the first allotment of funds was $22,875 for the courthouse for air conditioning; improved wireless access points, improved SonicWall and backup system and the TextMyGov feature; as well as $81,610 to digitize real estate books and a truck with a topper in the amount of $42,835 for Emergency Management.
The second round of approvals from the first allotment on February 7, 2022 saw a total of $267,981 approved for the Sheriff’s Office, Secondary Roads, Veterans Affair, Public Health, Historic Preservation and courthouse improvements.
Of the total $475,301 first allotment, $98,095.54 remains unspent as of August 23.
On June 6, 2022 the supervisors approved $3,750 to the CamaVision program for the Assessors office, $7,755 towards tactical gear for the Sheriff’s office and $66,307 towards a storm shelter for Ringgold County Supportive Services.
Not approved by the supervisors was $23,000 in election equipment, $61,489 for PSAP – dispatch updates, $205,000 for Secondary Roads equipment and $108,000 for Conservation and the Liberty Lake Campground project.
Of the second allotment, $397,489 remains unspent as of August 23.
At the meeting, the Ringgold County Conservation Board members in attendance argued for the approval of funds for the project.
If approved for the Conservation Department, the $108,000 in requested funding would have gone towards “Phase 3” of the Liberty Lake Project. That funding, along with grants and donations, would provide a campground at the northwest corner of Liberty Lake, just north of the almost completed cabins and the newly added shower house.
At the meeting, Conservation Board members Dale Walkup, Doug Frost and Randy Bishop attended, along with Executive Director Kate Zimmerman.
Bishop began the discussion explaining why the Conservation Department wanted the funding from the ARPA funding.
“There’s a lot of grants out there, matching grants,” he said. “Right now there is a Destination Iowa grant that we can apply for and probably have a good chance of getting it, but there’s no use in going through all the paperwork and stuff to fill out, if we don’t have the funds to match it. So, in other words, if we got that $100,000 of that ARPA funds, we would turn that into $170,000. It’s a 60/40 grant and if it doesn’t get spent here, it’s got to go somewhere and I’d like to see it get spent here.”
Walkup discussed the new shower house coming to the park and the need for the funding to complete the current phase so county residents can utilize the camping sooner rather than later, as well as generations of Ringgold County residents to come.
“How long do we drag on and not have a campground available?” he asked. “Whereas if we start today and start the process, we can have it maybe by the end of next year, but if we don’t get started we will be lagging behind.”
Walkup turned his attention to the funding source itself.
“Randy [Bishop] mentioned the value of the dollar and this money came from federal tax funds,” he said. “Where did the federal government get them? They borrowed it on the debt. This project should be available for the kids and grandkids of today that could benefit from that in the future. They are going to be paying for it, so let’s give them something they can use and see the benefit of what they are paying for.”
Frost shared the sentiments of the other two Conservation Board members but added how important it is to give people outdoor recreation.
“This money is not for the [Conservation] board,” he said. “This board gives back to the community and everyone gets to enjoy it. This project has been going on for years, and we are trying to put the period at the end of the sentence and complete a project. It would be different if we were just starting out.”
Supervisor Colby Holmes asked what phase the project was on, to which the Conservation Board answered the ARPA funding and grant towards Phase 3 would complete the campground and phase.
“Phase 3 is our goal,” said Frost. “The rest is going to have to be on hold for awhile.”
Supervisor Steve Knapp asked if the board was asking for the money today, or if it was just a promise to support the project in the event the grant was awarded.
With a resolution stating the Board of Supervisors would fund 60 percent of the project, the grant would award the other 40 percent, in the event it was awarded, to complete the project. If the grant was not awarded, the resolution would become void.
With no action on the agenda, the Conservation Board requested a resolution be drafted and voted upon at the next Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, August 29. Supervisor Chairperson Ron Landphair stated he was in favor of placing a resolution on the next agenda, but the idea was met with resistance from supervisors Holmes and Knapp.
Knapp stated that just because they haven’t awarded the money, doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be,” said Knapp. “It just means we just aren’t doing it.”
The supervisors spoke about projects that are currently still out that they are worried may go above projected costs including new radios for first responders and EMS.
“Possibly some things not even on this list are problems with some radios for our EMS like first responders going to a fire and getting there before a doctor,” said Holmes. “They can’t communicate with dispatch unless they are on the top of a hill on their telephone. We have a lot of things to address which is my hesitation on it, and we have to get everyone together in October.”
Zimmerman stated that grant money was available for radios, to which Holmes agreed.
Holmes then went on to state that new radios, if funded by the ARPA funding, would have taken all of the $900,000 given to Ringgold County and that the original cost, two years ago, was $1.5 million, for radios, towers, etc.
Walkup disputed that claim, stating Southwest Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative secured all new, top of the line, radios for significantly less.
“We did it at REC so I know it would be a lot cheaper than that,” said Walkup. “They work great. It’s the same one that Highway Patrol has.”
Bishop reinforced that the reason the Conservation Board was there today was because the Destination Iowa grant is due at the end of December.
“Kate [Zimmerman] can’t wait until November to start filling out the paperwork and get it done,” said Bishop. “She needs to be knowing soon so she can get started on it.”
Phase 3 was completely funded until bids came back higher than the original bids, which is why the Conservation Board was relying on ARPA funds. The cabins and shower house are paid for, while the campground (excavation, rock, seeding, water/electric, engineering costs) is the final piece of the puzzle.
The Conservation Board once again asked if the supervisors were willing to put the action for a resolution on the agenda for the Board of Supervisors meeting the following Monday, to which Landphair affirmed that he was, while Knapp stated they would need to discuss it.
“We are moving on and we need help to complete it.” said Walkup.
“We’ve been here awhile, I guess it’s back to what we asked a little bit ago,” said Bishop. “It’s got to be on the agenda to pass a resolution. If all three of you or two of you won’t even consider it, then there’s no use in putting it on the agenda or wasting our time either.”
“Our original thoughts were it would sure be nice to get some of this other caught up and see what else is coming down in the future,” said Holmes. “Since we do have some time, rather than spend it all at once. I have to look out for all of the departments not just Conservation.”
“I agree with you, but I want you to consider we are bringing money in with that, we aren’t just asking for money,” said Bishop. “We are bringing another $70,000 into the county.”
The Board of Supervisors declined to add the resolution vote to the next meeting’s agenda, to which Zimmerman made a public statement.
“The Ringgold County Conservation department is here today to once again ask for the Board of Supervisors support to help us complete our Liberty Lake phase 3 project. At this stage, it seems a futile effort to get the Board of Supervisors to show any minute support for this department and our projects that have had such a large impact on the community.
“Despite multiple attempts to meet with the Board of Supervisors since the June 20th meeting where the Board of Supervisors did not allocate the ARPA committee approved funding to the Liberty Lake campground project, the Board of Supervisors have actively denied to meet with the Conservation Department and their lack of transparency is a concern.
“The Board of Supervisors have refused to acknowledge that our entire Volunteer Conservation Board is not available to meet during their Monday day-time meetings due to the impact it would have on their careers and livelihoods, despite our repeated attempts to explain this. There was an offer of an another agreed upon date, which the Board of Supervisors and Auditor Waske have repeatedly ignored. The Board of Supervisors and Auditor Waske attend many evening meetings for other Boards and Departments, as well as their own scheduled ‘Cookies and Coffee’ public meetings. With the most recent evening special meeting going to the City of Mount Ayr to consider bonding for the city pool project at which Supervisor Holmes and Supervisor Knapp attended and Auditor Waske did not despite the quorum.
“While this development is exciting for the City of Mount Ayr and that the Board of Supervisors are considering going above and beyond to help ensure the success of the pool project, it is also incredibly disheartening and frustrating that the Board of Supervisors are not willing to take even the smallest steps to ensure the completion and success of its own county department by approving the ARPA-committee-approved funding for the Liberty Lake campground project that would help the conservation department secure further grant and donation funding.
“The Board of Supervisors ongoing behavior continues to build barriers that harm and damage the future of the conservation department and the progress and development of Ringgold County and exhibits the continued discrimination and retaliation to Zimmerman and the Conservation Department by the Board of Supervisors.”
After the statement by Zimmerman, Auditor Waske stated she did attend the council meeting that Zimmerman referenced, but Supervisor Knapp stated she was in attendance at the August 1 council meeting but not at the August 3 special council meeting. (as confirmed by the City of Mount Ayr’s minutes published in the August 11 Record-News.)
In later correspondence with the Record-News, Auditor Waske addressed the August 3 special City of Mount Ayr meeting stating “Per Iowa Code Chapter 21, a public meeting occurs when the majority of the board members are present and deliberation occurs. Fact-finding sessions or gatherings for purely ministerial purposes does not violate Chapter 21.”