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Webster County urges state funding for natural resources

Supervisors hear update on bridges

County officials are calling for the state to support the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which was supported by voters in 2010, but never funded.

Webster County Conservation Director Matt Cosgrove said other cities and counties are also being asked to show their support of a resolution calling for a 3/8 of a cent increase in the state sales tax to fund natural resources.

“This is a chance for us to start to address natural resource needs with sustainable, constitutionally protected funding that has already been approved by the citizens, and now just takes a vote of the legislature,” Cosgrove said.

The Webster County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to show their support.

Work on creating the fund began in 2006, Cosgrove said.

“The governor and legislature realized there was not adequate funding for natural resources, the state park system, all the things Iowans treasure,” Cosgrove said. “They started to put together a sustainable funding advisory committee to look at what are other states doing to fund their natural resource programs, along with the fishing and hunting dollars they bring in.”

The year-long process of figuring out what should be done included diverse groups including the Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, Pheasants Forever, and Democratic and Republican state lawmakers.

The trust fund was approved by two different sessions of the Iowa legislature in 2008 and 2009, with more than 90 percent in support, Cosgrove said. It then was approved by a vote of Iowa citizens in 2010 by about 63 percent.

“That was 2010. Here we are in 2017 with no money in the trust fund,” Cosgrove said. “If you remember a few years ago, a gas tax was passed that was 10 cents per gallon. This is 3/8 of one cent.”

That 3/8 of a cent would get the state about $150 million in 2010, which was what they concluded they needed, Cosgrove said.

The sales tax rate in Webster County is currently 7 percent.

Water and soil quality issues were at the top of the list of priorities, as well as park infrastructure needs, Cosgrove said.

“Roughly half of Iowa’s waterways do not meet minimum standards. This is an opportunity, without lawsuits, to start putting protected money toward funding Iowa’s natural resources,” he said.

The fund’s formula specifies that 14 percent of the money would go to watershed protection, 20 percent to soil conservation and water protection, 23 percent to natural resources (including wildlife habitat restoration and protection), 13 percent to Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP), 13 percent to local conservation partnerships, 10 percent to trails, and 7 percent to lake restoration.

The trail funding “includes trail maintenance money, which doesn’t exist in Iowa right now,” Cosgrove said. “It falls on the back of local city and county governments to fund that.”

Webster County gets about $20,000 a year from REAP now, Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove hopes the state legislature will take up the issue soon — adding the 3/8 of a cent in a revenue neutral way by providing relief elsewhere.

“Hopefully in the next week or two you’re going to see a bill come out, now that they’re done with the collective bargaining controversy,” Cosgrove said.

Supervisor Merrill Leffler voiced his support before the unanimous vote by the board.

“It just doesn’t make a lot of sense that everybody’s approved it, and it hasn’t been funded for the last seven years,” Leffler said.

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In other business the supervisors approved purchase of a new asphalt repair machine for the roads department

The 2012 Total Patcher T7500 will be purchased from Mid Country Machinery in Fort Dodge for $53,500.

The machine is like new and only has two hours on it, said Webster County Engineer Randy Will.

The county’s current machine, a 1995 model, is beyond repair, he said.

It mixes asphalt chips with oil and fills potholes and cracks. Fort Dodge also has a machine, Will said.

“It’s a good thing to be doing,” he said.

Supervisor Bob Thode thanked Will for saving the county about $20,000 on the purchase, when compared to a 2017 model.

Also, one new bridge has been added to the county’s list of bridges with weight limits since the supervisors were last updated in November, Will said.

Six more low weight posted bridges have had their limit lowered further.

Will plans to replace 10 deteriorating bridges in the fiscal year from July 1 to June 30, 2018.