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There’s No Place Like Home

By Staff | Oct 7, 2008

After giving consideration to an invitation to join in a new housing trust organization, the Palo Alto County Supervisors decided to stay with the tried and true approach during their Sept. 30 meeting. Board members also approved a leave of absence for an employee and approved the suspension of property taxes on a parcel during their weekly session.

In a meeting on Sept. 23, the supervisors met with Carol Keizer of the Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Commission in Spencer, who briefed the board on the establishment of the Northwest Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund. The organization would work with member counties on various housing initiatives, such as rehabilitation, new construction, ownership, emergency repair and other possibilities. The group would use funding through the Iowa Housing Authority, with a 25 percent local match.

Palo Alto County has been a member of the Homeward Housing Trust since its inception, several years ago. The Homeward Housing Trust is an organization based in Butler County that works with various counties and rural electric cooperatives to provide similar services. Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, which serves a majority of Palo Alto County, is one of the sponsoring utilities of the Homeward Housing Trust.

On Tuesday, Palo Alto County Mental Health Director Maureen Sandberg visited with the Supervisors about the presentations. “I would recommend that you not switch to the Northwest Iowa Housing Trust,” Sandberg said. “Our current group, Homeward Housing, gets its local match funds from the electric utility cooperatives, which the Northwest Iowa group doesn’t have in place. I would also question some of the new group’s proposals for services.”

“I agree,” commented Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “I can see no benefit to switching to the new group at all, I’d move to stay affiliated with the Homeward Housing Trust,”

Supervisor Ed Noonan seconded the motion, which passed on a unanimous vote of the board.

In other business, Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz asked for the supervisor’s approval of a request for an unpaid leave of absence for Secondary Road Employee Joey Wirtz. Wirtz, an Operator II in the department, would be responsible for his own insurance coverage during the leave of absence, which would run from Oct. 1 to April 1, 2009.

“We don’t really have a set policy on this, but I would recommend your approval of this leave of absence,” Fantz said. “Joey is a good employee and I think we should honor his request.”

“Is there any extra help to fill in at his district?” Noonan asked.

“We would have to do some juggling, but that’s been done before,” Fantz answered. “We’ll just have to look at how we cover things, stretch a few things. It’s not unusual to be short in an area, but just not for an extended period of time.”

The board approved the leave of absence on a unanimous vote.

Supervisor Keith Wirtz asked Fantz to explain the situations involving Alliant Energy and its utility poles along the Depew road project corridor. “I had a resident up there ask me about it and I didn’t think that the county was involved in any problem. Are we?”

“No, the county is in the clear,” Fantz replied. “We bought right-of-way along that corridor to move poles and cable boxes to get clear distances. The number one cause of death in accidents where vehicles run off a road is colliding with objects, such as poles. That’s why we bought the additional right-of-way. And, farmers don’t like poles.”

Fantz pointed out that during the grading work along the corridor this summer, all the other utility companies involved in the area had been highly cooperative in their work with the county, but Alliant was another story.

“We didn’t pay $5,000 for Alliant to put their poles in the middle of a ditch,” Fantz said. “This is Alliant’s issue. It is between Alliant and the farmers up there and is not a county issue.”

Palo Alto County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker brought a tax suspension request before the board for a property in West Bend.

“The suspension of taxes does not forgive these taxes, it only postpones them until any conveyance of the property takes place,” Hilfiker explained.

“I don’t like it that we have no choice about this,” noted Noonan.

“Your vote just gives me permission to execute the suspension,” Hilfiker said.

Reluctantly, the board approved the request on a 4-1 roll call vote, with Noonan casting the lone nay vote.