Planning for 2024-25, building on a year of progress

By Kate Klimesh,

The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors heard budget requests from the Winneshiek County Sheriff, Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission and Winneshiek County Economic Development and Tourism Monday, Dec. 11, in preparation of the January 2024 county budget discussions.  

The budget for the County Sheriff’s Office presented by Sheriff Dan Marx, reflected little to no increase, based on anticipated revenues and expenses planned for FY24-25. Sheriff Marx noted that the dedicated detective/investigator position has proven to be very beneficial and has been a major factor to the high level of success they have had with clearing cases. 

While Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office is a part of the 16-county regional NE Iowa Drug Task Force, the Sheriff’s Office increase in revenues for the 2024-25 budget reflects a large number of the task force cases coming out of the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office. This is due to factors including aggressive drug and criminal investigations by deputies, quality investigative work of all the deputies involved, as well as effective partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and the prosecutor’s office.   

Additionally, in Winneshiek County, the transition to making food for the inmates in-house has gone well, offering a cost savings and a benefit, “the inmates give us feedback, and they say our rules are too strict, but the food is better than anywhere else. Our job isn’t to punish them, it’s to let them serve out their sentence in a safe and secure environment.” 

The Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission brought their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors, noting they would be working on a project to publish the results of a recent historic barn survey in the next year. WCHPC President Steve Johnson estimated the commission utilized the $2,600 received in 2023 as seed money to raise approximately $8,000 from granted and outside funds. They also held a state-credentialed historic conference in Decorah in October of this year, and also won an award for their Winneshiek County Schoolhouse historical booklet. Johnson noted that moving offices to the Smith Building from the old jail has been good, “it’s great being there. Now we’re in a building we helped get on the National Register of Historic Places.” 

Stephanie Fromm presented the budget for Winneshiek County Development and Tourism to the supervisors, noting they had added a Project Coordinator, Maddie Putnam, of Decorah in 2023. She shared statistics on visitor data from 2022 and reported receiving $1.5 million in grant funding in the past 12 months. She stated that their focus for 2024-25 fiscal year would be consistent with previous efforts to address workforce development through childcare services, increase tourism to the area, and connect the needs of the community with resources from their office. Housing was another priority listed for the upcoming year.  

Fromm noted her project manager had begun working with Ossian, Calmar and Spillville for a feature video short to promote tourism to the surrounding areas in the county.  

Progress on Sunflower Childcare center is advancing, with an estimated June 2024 move-in date to the space currently under construction. Fromm added donations were still being accepted toward the project.

Other business

• The public hearing held for the Festina Wastewater project improvement loan and disbursement of $571,000 in bonded funds was held with no public comment presented. The loan, its payment and the tax compliance procedures on the tax-exempt bonds was unanimously approved by the board.

• The supervisors made all necessary year-end appointments to county boards and commissions. A complete list of appointments can be found in the supervisors’ minutes published in a future edition of the Decorah Public Opinion. 

• The supervisors expressed dissatisfaction with the company in charge of installing the annex’s new audio-video system as the speakers in the audience section of the room still aren’t working properly. The board decided to contact the company, seeking to remedy the problem. County Auditor Ben Steines said the county hasn’t paid part of the company’s bill for this reason.

• In a three-to-two vote, with Supervisors Mark Faldet and Shirley Vermace making up the minority, the board approved a motion to set a public hearing and soliciting of bids for the sale of the Freeport property, generally referred to as the “Iowa Rotocast Plastics (IRP) property purchase”. The public hearing will be held Jan. 8 at 10:30 the Winneshiek County Courthouse Annex.

• The board issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to have human resources firms submit proposals to assist the county with review of several policies including the employee handbook. The supervisors will review proposals on a date to be determined in January and decide whether they will hire any outside assistance with these projects.

• The Board of Supervisors next meeting will be held Dec. 18, at the Winneshiek County Courthouse Annex, at 9:30 a.m.  

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