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Legislators meet voters at Eggs and Issues

School safety, speed cameras draw questions

-Messenger photo by Lori Berglund
State Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink listens as state Sen. Jesse Green takes a question during Saturday’s Eggs and Issues session at Iowa Central Community College.

It was a packed house at Iowa Central Community College’s Triton Cafe on Saturday as the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance hosted another in its session of Eggs and Issues, bringing together local citizens with area legislators.

Kelly Hindman moderated the session that included state Reps. Ann Meyer and Mike Sexton, as well as state Sens. Jesse Green and Tim Kraayenbrink. The four Republicans took questions for some 90 minutes. A few Webster County officials were also on hand, including Supervisor Mark Campbell and Sheriff Luke Fleener.

School safety

School safely was the heart of the very first question posed on Saturday. The question came from a retired educator concerned that a bill working through the Legislature allowing teachers to carry weapons in school may result in tragic consequences, rather than enhanced safety.

Meyer was the first to tackle the question and noted that she had discussed the issue in depth with Fleener, who gave her a perspective on the training that would be required and how it could impact school safety.

-Messenger photo by Lori Berglund
There was a good turn-out Saturday morning as members of the public questioned area legislators on areas of interest at Eggs and Issue forum. In the foreground above is Webster County Supervisor Mark Campbell, on hand to address any local issues brought forward.

“The bill in the House is not mandatory,” but it would include lots of training for those who may be interested in becoming certified, she explained. “I am not opposed if someone in a trained fashion can protect children by carrying a weapon.”

Meyer shared the story of a retired police chief working in area public schools who is not allowed to carry a weapon on school grounds. That person would certainly be well qualified to carry and would be the logical first responder to help protect children in an emergency. But current law leaves this former officer unarmed on school grounds.

Most of all, Meyer said, she is “saddened” by recent tragedies and that there has to be this discussion at all.

“I will support the bill,” she concluded.

Green, whose Senate district includes the Perry School District, gave his appreciation to first responders in Dallas County for their swift response to the shootings at the Perry Community School earlier this year. He credited radio communications staff for coordinating the response and getting the right people to the school in just seven minutes from the first report of shots fired.

-Messenger photo by Lori Berglund
Kelly Hindman moderated on behalf of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance as area legislators took part in the February session of Eggs and Issues at the Iowa Central campus Saturday morning. From left are state Rep. Mike Sexton, staate Rep. Ann Meyer, Hindman, state Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink and state Sen. Jesse Green.

Having a trained person carrying a weapon within the school, according to Green, could shorten even that quick response time.

“We have to have someone in the school to fill that seven minute gap,” Green said.

Kraayenbrink agreed that a certified person could enhance school safety. The fact that would-be shooters know they will have a certain amount of time before law enforcement arrives can result in tragedy, he noted.

“A no-carry area is more attractive to a person who wants to disrupt because they know no one is carrying,” Kraayenbrink said.

“This would be a good job for retired police or military to fill that role,” Kraayenbrink said.

Income, property tax issues

No political gathering would be complete without a few questions on taxes. With the state continuing its effort to roll back income tax rates that were nearly 9 percent in 2018 to approximately 3.9 percent, the question is what’s next, and what will the state do with continued surplus revenue.

For Sexton, he said it is crucial to now move the focus to property taxes. Without lower property tax rates, Sexton said people could face difficult choices, such as paying their property tax or completing needed repairs to maintain the value in their homes.

“I think we need to worry more about property taxes than the income tax,” Sexton said. “We are going to force people out of their homes.”

Kraayenbrink addressed the surplus, stating that any funds left over should be returned to taxpayers.

“We want to put the money back to the people paying it,” he said.

AEA changes still undecided

The legislators also heard questions on proposed changes to the state’s nine AEAs. All of the legislators agreed that work remains to be done on the proposal and a final decision is not certain.

“We’re a long way from the finish line on this bill,” Kraayenbrink said. “The governor is still seeking her original plan.”

He sought to deflect concerns about potential job losses within the AEAs.

“This bill does not require any loss of jobs,” Kraayenbrink said. “All of the money stays in that program.”

AEAs could choose to reduce staff, but it is not a mandate, as he described the proposal.

“We will not vote for anything that does not increase students for services,” Kraayenbrink said. “We are looking for the best outcome for students.”

Meyer noted that the House bill would create a legislative tax force to take a closer look at the AEA system before any changes are implemented.

“The task force would determine what needs to change and what doesn’t,” Meyer said. “I think the House bill slows down the process quite a bit.”

Special Education funding would not be touched, according to Meyer. She championed the fact that it would bring salaries for CEOs of the AEA’s more in line with that of school superintendents.

“This will bring more local control,” Meyer said. “I think the bill does what you all were asking for.”

Green also spoke in favor of more local control in regard to the required use of AEA’s by local school districts.

“With this system, things cost more than they should,” Green said. “We need to empower school boards so that when they write a check, they know what they are getting. That’s the type of oversight that we need.”

Distracted driving

Hands-free driving legislation tends to be a hot button issue, despite deep support for it. Some legislators noted that perhaps 85 percent of the public favors laws to crack down on distracted driving, but getting a bill passed can be elusive.

Green, who at one time opposed any bill, said he has changed course.

“I’ve done a 180,” Green said. “Once you see the data, I had been against hands-free driving (legislation), but lumping this issue with the (elimination) of speed cameras may be the only way to get it to the governor’s desk,” Green said.

Meyer said she understands the opposition to speed cameras, but took a realistic approach to the matter.

“Speed cameras in Fort Dodge pay for about four officers. If we get rid of them, that’s an unfunded mandate,” Meyer noted.

Kraayenbrink picked up on the issue of speed cameras and said he had recently discussed the two new cameras that became operational at Webster City last October. The first set of cameras is located on Highway 17 south of Webster City, near the Boone River bridge, with the second set on Highway 20, just east of Highway 17.

City officials have previously said the funds would be directed in four areas: police, who are tasked with reviewing the camera images, public safety equipment, public safety operations, and general services.

Kraayenbrink said DOT officials have told him that in the first three months of operation, the cameras at Webster City have brought in more than $1 million in revenue. It should be noted that the company that provided the cameras, Sensys Gatso, receives a significant portion of those revenues, per its agreement with the city of Webster City.

“Be honest and say it’s for revenue,” Kraayenbrink said.

He also noted that there is support to require 50 percent of speed camera revenue derived on state highways to go to the state of Iowa. Both of the Webster City cameras are located on state highways. With 50 percent of funding directed to the state, private companies may lose interest in installing them, legislators observed.

Another idea, according to Kraayenbrink is to take speed camera revenue and direct it to groups such as volunteer fire departments. Those types of changes, according to Kraayenbrink, would cause him to support hands-free driving legislation.

More work needed to combat drugs

As the morning wrapped up, Meyer offered her concerns about drug use and how it hurts communities. A simple online check for statistics should convince anyone, she said, as to the serious problem that north central Iowa is confronting.

“Drugs are a major issue in Fort Dodge,” Meyer said. “Drugs lead to crime.”

Voicing her support for economic development, she said it’s difficult to make real progress on building the strength of a community without addressing underlying drug problems.

“I think we need grants that specifically address drugs,” Meyer said.

With the day’s forum hosted by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, making the connection between drugs and growth was apt in a community that has suffered from violence in past years. From the workforce to home values, drugs and crime put a strain on a community’s ability to grow, and Meyer said it’s time to work with renewed focus on the drug problem.

Next forum set for March 23

Hindman took time to remind all that the next Eggs and Issues will be on March 23. The forum is held regularly on the fourth Saturday of each month during the legislative session. Typically, that’s the last Saturday of the month, but with five Saturdays in March, the schedule may look a little different than normal. He encouraged all to turn out with questions ready at 8:30 a.m. on March 23, again at the Triton Cafe on the ICCC campus in Fort Dodge.

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