City Council Delays Adopting Resolution
“What I’m trying to do is send a message to the casino that we are united… The basic idea is that the casino is overtaxed,” Mayor John Schad told members of Emmetsburg City Council last Monday, Feb. 25.
Mayor Schad proposed the City Council adopt a resolution “respectfully requesting the Palo Alto County Assessor’s Office to lower the tax assessment of Wild Rose Casino.” The council did not take action on the resolution at their Monday night meeting.
Over the past several weeks, the Mayor has spoken out against the valuation assessment for Wild Rose Casino & Resort set by Palo Alto County Assessor Lois Naig. He addressed the issue at a meeting of the Palo Alto County Conference Board, at meetings of Emmetsburg City Council, and through the news media.
In his report to the City Council, Mayor Schad said, “…a lot of things that need to be said are really not part of city business, just opinions expressed by me as mayor of Emmetsburg.
“The issue of casino taxation has spiraled out of control, and to the best of my knowledge has not had any positive effect on getting the taxes lowered. My direct approach to the problem has resulted in the issue shifting from lowering the taxes to ‘should the mayor be doing that’, to ‘Lois Naig doesn’t deserve this.’
“So I want to issue an apology personally and as mayor of Emmetsburg. My first apology is to the citizens of Emmetsburg for failing to bring the tax issue under control, getting the assessment lowered and therefore presenting more investment in Palo Alto County by Wild Rose or the principals Mike Richards and Gary Kirke. We all lost a lot of money and I had hoped to bring about a change in the assessment by taking a strong position on the matter. That obviously didn’t work.
“Next I want to issue an apology to the council and the city administrator. I do not apologize for attempting to right this wrong, but I do apologize for the council and the city administrator having to field the phone calls and street comments for the last week or so.
“Thirdly, I want to apologize to Lois Naig, not for disagreeing with her on the casino assessment, but for taking a strong position that she had to find difficult. Lois is a nice person who is backed into a corner and doesn’t have an easy way out.
“Having said that, I do want the citizens of Emmetsburg to know that I still believe the casino assessment is out of line, and a serious problem for their continued efforts in Palo Alto County. I believe the casino has shown willingness to work with the county and the city if this issue is resolved, and so far no one seems willing to do it. I will continue to take a stand in favor of tax reduction.“
Mayor Schad explained that his proposed resolution is “to put the city on record as in favor of reducing the taxes to an equitable level. It is non-binding and only makes a respectful request of the assessors office. It won’t solve our problem, but if we do get a unanimous or strong majority of the council to vote in favor of the resolution. It will be another signal to Wild Rose that we are appreciative of their economic development efforts.“
When the resolution was put before Emmetsburg City Council on Monday, councilman Cory Gramowski stated, “It’s in the process of being resolved right now,” referring to an appeal currently under review by the Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board.
“I can’t see at this point we should pass a resolution like this,” Gramowski continued. “Although I do agree with this, I don’t think we can really ask them right now to be lowered.“
Schad told the council that he had contacted the Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board, questioning whether an issue could be resolved after the hearing but before the ruling was handed down. That question had not been put to the board before and Schad received no answer.
“I don’t want the casino to feel we’re waffling away from them,” Schad said. He pointed out that a decision on the appeal would be ruled on within seven weeks after the final attorney briefs have been filed the end of this month.
Emmetsburg resident Joe Neary took advantage of the new policy to address the issue before the City Council.
“I don’t think the Wild Rose is going to think you’re waffling,” said Neary. “Regarding Resolution 08-08, tonight I don’t believe is the night.“
Neary referred to the appeal process in the Code of Iowa, noting that a hearing was held Jan. 23 before the Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board.
“It would be inappropriate for you, as a council, to act tonight, to take action at a time when it is before the appeals board,” Neary said. “It would be reasonable to wait until that process comes to an end.“
Neary continued, “I don’t think you’d lose any ground by waiting until the decision is made. And when the decision is made I’d like both sides to agree to the decision.“
Mayor Schad commented, “I think what’s important is that we do it unanimously if we can. I think if there are people on the council that feel that we can’t vote for it today, I would prefer that we table it.“
Neary added, “I really hope when you make your decision, you get good information. Let’s have good figures.“
“I appreciate Joe’s comments,” said council representative Sandy Pelzer. “The good thing that has come out of this, it has opened up conversations.”