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Theft suspect eludes authorities in Western IA & eastern NE


June 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

A high-speed chase in Mills County Tuesday afternoon led to the recovery of stolen property,  but the suspect got away. Mills County Deputy Bruce Paulsen told KJAN News they received a call at around 4-p.m., about suspicious activity involving a white male in his mid-20’s, and a tan or multi-colored 1994 Jeep. The activity was taking place at Mile Hill Lake, just outside of Glenwood, on Highway 34.

Paulsen says the suspect was breaking into other vehicles parked at the lake. A deputy who happened to be nearby when the call came in, pulled up just as the suspect’s vehicle was about to leave. When the deputy activated his lights and siren, the Jeep took off.

The chase went on for about 37-minutes. Paulsen says speeds during the pursuit topped 100-miles per hour at times. He says as it turns out, the vehicles’ license plates had been switched with a similar vehicle owned by a resident of Omaha.

As the chase ensued, the suspect tossed items stolen from the other vehicles out onto the road. When the chase crossed over the Plattsmouth Bridge into Nebraska, authorities in Iowa broke-off their pursuit and notified officials in Nebraska. The suspect ditched the Jeep and took off on foot. He remained at large as of today.

The vehicle was recovered as evidence.

Avoca City Manager says Branstad tax breaks will hurt local governments & prop. tax payers


June 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

The following was submitted by Avoca City Manager Clint Fichter….

It seems that no one in Iowa is really safe while the Legislature is still in session. The latest potential victims are local governments and residential property tax payers who will be very negatively affected by the latest tax restructuring proposal being considered.

Governor Terry Branstad has proposed far reaching commercial property tax breaks that will result in the shift of much of the property tax burden from commercial property tax payers to residential property taxpayers. Under the Branstad plan, 40% of commercial property tax value would be permanently phased-in for exemption from property taxes over a period of five years. The total cost to local governments (cities, counties, and schools) for the cuts exceeds $500 million dollars. Residential property taxes will see unprecedented increases if this proposal is to pass.

Despite the fact that State law likely will already cause residential property taxes to grow four times faster than commercial property taxes over the next six years, Governor Branstad is pushing policies that will make this increase much worse. Under current Iowa law, the increase in taxable value for residential property is tied to increases in assessed value for agricultural property. Over the next several years, agricultural values are expected to be strong; meaning the taxable values for residential properties will grow. Currently residential properties are taxed at 48% of assessed value, over the next five years that percentage is expected to increase to 58% of assessed value. Assuming current levels of spending and average inflation in an average Iowa city, residential properties will see a 27% increase in their city property taxes over the next six years. Over the next six years, the same estimates indicate that commercial taxes would only increase 6% if current law is maintained.

Although the Branstad plan slows down the rate of residential taxable value growth – it still shifts a much larger amount of property taxes to residential property owners. Under the Branstad tax shifting plan, average residential properties will see a net property tax increase of 48.5% over six years and commercial and industrial taxes will see a net reduction of 18% over six years. Average residential property owners will pay much more because the amount of taxable commercial values sharing the tax will be reduced by 40%.

Commercial properties are taxed at 100% of the assessed value and pay a proportionately higher amount of taxes, so the goal of commercial property tax relief is not without merit. However, the ultimate plan to provide commercial property tax relief should not result in such harsh burden for residential property owners and local governments.

Cities, counties, and schools will all be negatively impacted by the tax shift and basic services will be difficult and the tax increases caused by Branstad’s tax shift plan cannot be avoided. Iowa’s local governments do not have much room to cut and already spend less than the national average. According to the Tax Foundation, the state’s per capita property tax collection is below the national average. The US average per capita property tax collection is $1,352 and Iowa’s is $1,245. The Tax Foundation also says that over the past 20 years, Iowa’s state and local tax burden is 9.3% of income, below the national average of 9.7%.

The magnitude of the proposal’s impact only increases depending on the size of the community, however it will also greatly increase the already grave challenges faced by rural communities too. The plan forces will force cities to raise taxes and/or make cuts to provide the same level of public safety, recreational facilities, and infrastructure. In the small community of Avoca, our city government will need to offset $325,000 annually in revenue through increases to residential property taxpayers due to the proposed tax cuts.

Iowa’s cities also are major participants in economic development through their participation in incentives and construction of infrastructure that support commercial and industrial activities. The proposed tax cuts will undercut these effective programs that make commercial and industrial development possible. For example, using Tax Increment Financing to help commercial projects develop needed infrastructure, the City of Avoca, Iowa increased its commercial tax base 117% from FY 2001 to FY 2011 – nearly double the average commercial tax growth for an Iowa city over the same time period. Over the same ten-year period, the City of Avoca’s tax levy only increased 7%, while the average city’s levy increased 12%. This type of economic development assistance to grow tax base and to spread out the tax burden will be hindered by the Branstad tax shift plan because cities will find it more difficult to participate in the development of infrastructure when the commercial projects are only paying taxes on 60% of the value.

The proposal will also make local governments all over the state, reliant on long-term debt and special assessments to fund infrastructure projects because cities will find it difficult to support the pay-as-you-go approach to infrastructure when revenues have been so severely reduced.

Branstad has attempted to justify the drastic tax cuts by pointing to the possibility of increased commercial and industrial investment. This is a claim that many competent and experienced people dispute. David Swenson, Iowa State University economists, has said “I disagree that significant cuts in taxes will stimulate meaningful amounts of net new business or industrial investment in Iowa.” The Branstad administration has not shown any economic data or projections that even attempt to justify that a 40% commercial property tax cut can be made up through property tax base growth.

Branstad has held out the possibility that the State would “backfill” up to half of the money necessary to pay for the commercial property tax cuts. This would reduce the need to raise residential taxes, but there is no reason to believe that the State will meet this commitment, even if there is enough money to fulfill the pledge. Prior to the 2011 legislative session, State Auditor Vaudt said the State of Iowa was on the verge of going over a “budgetary cliff” and projected shortfalls were massive. Revenues have increased and the budget picture looks better, but it is hard to believe the State would have the wherewithal to appropriate enough money to offset these cuts when existing commitments, like K-12 education, are looking at near permanent reductions in funding. The State has also continually failed to meet its obligations to both cities and counties and any State funding to pay for commercial tax breaks would not be any more reliable. For instances, in recent memory, the state has cut local government revenue sources, including bank franchise fees, State Shared Revenues, and the Machinery and Equipment tax and has failed to help cities make up any of the revenue shortfalls associated with these cuts – which has increased the reliance on property tax. It’s difficult to see how it will be different this time.

Lowering commercial taxes is a good goal and the Iowa League of Cities and Iowa Association of Counties have long supported this goal. There are numerous ways to approach this problem other than the partisan and damaging route that Branstad is proposing. For instance, state-funded tax credits could be offered to commercial property tax payers.

The Iowa Senate has approved a plan to provide $50 million in yearly commercial property tax cuts that would be achieved by taxing the first $30,000 of assessed value for commercial and industrial property at the same rate as residential homes. The program would grow incrementally by $50 million annually for four years with a proviso that yearly state revenue would have to grow by at least 4 percent to trigger the relief.

The Branstad proposal is fundamentally at odds with Iowa’s tradition of local control. Iowa’s cities are home rule entities and our elected/appointed officials should be the ones responsible for determining what taxes and services are appropriate for local people – not the Governor.

Iowa records 13 tornadoes, extreme high/low temperatures in May

News, Weather

June 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

The month of May in Iowa was marked by severe storms and drastic swings in the temperature. State Climatologist Harry Hillaker says 13 tornadoes touched down last month across Iowa. “Which is actually average for us this time of year,” Hillaker said. Eight tornadoes hit parts of western Iowa on May 11th.

The town of Lenox sustained the most damage, but no one was killed or seriously injured. Five more tornadoes ripped through rural areas of northeast and east-central Iowa on May 22. Iowa’s already recorded 37 tornadoes in 2011. “That already exceeds the total for last year and (2009),” Hillaker said. “The normal annual total is 48, so we’re not quite to that point.”

In 2008, Iowa recorded 120 tornadoes that killed 13 people – primarily in Parkersburg and New Hartford and at a Boy Scout camp in western Iowa’s Harrison County. Hillaker says Iowans should remain on alert for severe weather in the weeks to come. “June, on average, is our busiest month of the year for tornadoes in Iowa,” Hillaker said.

The statewide average temperature in May turned out to be “normal,” according to Hillaker, but the month included extreme heat and cold. The hot spot was Jefferson – which hit 100-degrees on May 10. Just one week earlier, on May 3, the coldest temperature of 20-degrees was recorded in both Spencer and Sibley. Hillaker says the statewide average rainfall was 5.2 inches. Normal rainfall for May is 4.25 inches.

Here in Atlantic, we received 4.17-inches of rain in May, which is three-tenths of an inch above normal. Our average High was 72-degrees, which is 10-degrees cooler than normal. The hottest day was on May 10th, when we hit 97-degrees. The average low was 48, which is about average for the month.

(Sources: Radio Iowa, NWS, KJAN weather records)

Economist: Exports aiding Midwest economic growth


June 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – A survey in nine Midwestern and Plains states suggests that exports are helping fuel regional economic growth.  A report released Wednesday says the Business Conditions Index for the Mid-America region rose in May, to 60.2 from 57.7 in April. Creighton University economist Ernie Gross oversees the survey.

He says that although higher commodity prices have hampered the regional economy, exports are making “a significant contribution to growth.” The survey of supply managers and executives and the report use a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Organizers say any score above 50 suggests economic growth in the next three to six months, while a score below 50 suggests a contracting economy.

States in the survey are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Odor complaint leads to drug arrest


June 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Police in Red Oak say one person was arrested Tuesday after officers investigated a reported odor complaint. 24-year old Tyce Samual Watts, of Elliott, was arrested after authorities went to 1660 east Summit Street in Red Oak, at around 1:30-p.m.

A search of the premises resulted in the recovery of a small amount of what authorities say was suspected to be marijuana, as well as drug paraphernalia.

Watts was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was being held in the Montgomery County Jail on $1,000 bond.

Red Oak woman faces drug charges


June 1st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Police in Red Oak Police say a woman arrested in late May faces additional charges stemming from an on-going investigation. 18-year-old Andrea Marie Elarton was originally charged with possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, in connection with an arrest in the 900 block of East Reed Street in the late-evening hours of May 23rd.

Elarton was subsequently charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and a felony violation of the state’s drug tax stamp law She was being held in the Montgomery County Jail, on $5,000 bond.



May 31st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Following a number of days of increasing responses to the current Missouri River flooding, Lynn Grobe, Chairman of the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors, Tuesday signed a local disaster declaration for Pottawattamie County including the Cities of Carter Lake and Council Bluffs. This allows for those two cities, as well as Pottawattamie County, to request  additional assistance if needed from outside resources and entities as the flood crisis continues.

Flooding continues on the low level areas near the river and City and County crews are monitoring closed areas and the levee system. Officials anticipate an increasing rise in the level of the Missouri River and are making efforts to anticipate any needs that may be required.

Pottawattamie County Emergency Management continues to facilitate calls between the State of Iowa Department of Homeland Security, the Army Corp of Engineers, and many citizens
and business partners that may be affected by this event. Planning sessions continued over the Memorial Day weekend and operations meetings with key responders will continue on a
daily basis.

Car vs. child accident


May 31st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

A Nebraska girl suffered minor injuries in Griswold Sunday afternoon, after she was struck by a car. The Cass County Sheriff’s Office says Ellie Howard, of LaVista, NE, was transported to the Cass County Memorial Hospital in Atlantic, after she was hit as she was trying to cross the street at around 4-p.m., Sunday.
The accident happened at the intersection of Whitney and Park Streets in Griswold. Officials say 21-year old Eve Alexandria Kwiatkowski, of Griswold, was traveling westbound on Whitney Street when her 2008 Chevy Impala made contact with the girl, who is believed to be under the age of 10.
No citations were issued.

Cass County arrests


May 31st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Three people were arrested on separate charges over the past week, here in Cass County. The Sheriff’s Department says 46-year old Tracy Joe Lane, of Griswold, was arrested May 24th on charges of OWI/3rd offense, Child Endangerment, and Driving While Revoked. Lane was brought to the Cass County Jail and released May 28th, on $10,000 bond.
Last Sunday, sheriff’s deputies arrested 34-year old Shawn Michael Egging, of Omaha, on a charge of OWI 1st Offense. Egging was released later that day on $1,000 bond.
And, on Friday, 36-year old Thomas Jordan Fredrickson, of Atlantic,  turned himself in to the Cass County Jail on a Cass County Sheriff’s warrant for OWI 2nd Offense. Fredericksen was released later that day on his own recognizance.

OWI arrest in Exira


May 31st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

An Exira man was arrested early Friday morning on an OWI charge, following a traffic stop in Exira. 23-year old Brock Daniel Knapp faces a charge of Operating While Intoxicated/1st offense, and Driving Under Suspension. He was taken into custody at around 2:30-a.m. Friday and brought to the Audubon County Jail.

Knapp was later released after appearing before the magistrate.