Monday, March 23, 2009

State budget outlook less than rosy

Two southeast Iowa legislators painted a less than rosy picture of the state's financial situation this weekend. Representative Larry Marek and Senator Becky Schmitz visited Washington Saturday to offer an update. Schmitz says state agencies and programs could face nearly eight percent in budget cuts. Representative Marek says while Iowa has faired better than other states during the recession, the sting is still being felt. Marek says state income has dropped by another 81-million dollars for this fiscal year. He says if unemployment numbers don't improve, the problem could continue into the 2010-2011 budget. The two legislators did offer some good news. Schmitz says she's happy about recent health care reforms, while Marek is pleased with a new child labor law.

Legislative briefing well received

Around 30 people came to the Washington County Courthouse Saturday to get an update on state government from Senator Becky Schmitz, and Representative Larry Marek. Balancing the budget, money for infrastructure and education were some of the biggest issues discussed. Washington resident Jan Rosien says it was a productive meeting. Rosien says she was very interested to hear about education. She's concerned that if teachers aren't adequately compensated, they'll look to other states for jobs. Rosien also says she understands that there are a lot of different areas that need attention, but simply not enough money to go around.

Washington Mayor concerned over water funding

Washington Mayor Sandra Johnson says she's concerned with how her community, and others like it across the state pay for their infrastructure. Johnson says there are a limited number of ways for cities to come up with the cash. She says she's worried about how Washington will pay for a state mandated waste water treatment plant. She would like for more money to be available to municipalities through the water quality improvement fund, because it carries a zero percent interest rate.

V.A. reorganization stalls out

A local veteran's affairs commissioner says he's glad a bill reorganizing his agency didn't go through. Terry Phillips, with the Washington County VA says the measure has merit, but thinks more consideration needs to go into House Study Bill 270. Phillips says the current system, which utilizes an unpaid commission to determine what benefits are given out and how they are administered, has been working well. Phillips also says they recently underwent a change at the county level, and feels another change could be counterproductive.

Small business program

Current and potential small business owners are encouraged to attend a small business program March 31st. Gary Bickmeier, Keokuk County Extension Education Director says it is a series of informal dialogues focusing on the challenges faced by local businesses. Bickmeier says the ongoing series is held on the last Tuesday of every month at the Sigourney Pizza Ranch Meeting Room. For further information on the program, call the Keokuk County Extension Office at 641-622-2680 or 800-515-2680.

Homeless students

In every school district there may be some students that may be homeless. Columbus School district Superintendent Rich Bridenstein says there are 5 definitions for being homeless. Bridenstein says they have a homeless student coordinator that he meets with on a quarterly basis. He says the record flooding last year did not affect many residential building but mainly businesses.

Keota-Mid Prairie superintendent sharing

The Mid Prairie school board is still discussing the issue of sharing Superintendent Mark Schneider with the Keota school district. Earlier this year, State Sen. Matt McCoy proposed limiting the number of school district superintendents to one per county, which would result in nearly 350 current superintendent positions being reduced to 99. He also proposed the forced consolidations of schools with student populations of fewer than 750. Schneider said though there is not much danger now of either of the proposals happening, that was not to say there might not be more legislative support in the future. Schneider told both Keota and Mid Prairie boards that any agreement the two school districts proposed would first be the subject of public hearings. Both School boards will meet at 7 p.m., Monday, March 30, at the Mid-Prairie High School.