Supervisors discuss the future of Vet’s Club at December 30 meeting; Recognize January as National Mentoring Month at January 6 meeting, among other matters

National Mentoring Month Proclamation ... The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors signed a proclamation at their January 6 meeting designating January as National Mentoring Month. Pictured, from left to right, front row: Tessa Willie, prevention services director, Helping Services for Youth and Families (HSYF); Colinne McCann, HSYF mentoring coordinator; Kathy Schwartzhoff, HSYF mentoring coordinator; Second row: Supervisor Larry Schellhammer; Nicole Hankes, Allamakee Mentoring Services Steering Committee; Back row: Carson Eggland, HSYF director; Supervisor Dan Byrnes; John Colucci, Luther College HSYF Intern, and Supervisor Dennis Koenig. Photo by Lissa Blake.

by Lissa Blake

December 30 Meeting
They’re open to suggestions. That’s what a number of Waukon Veterans told the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors Monday morning during its regular meeting.

Nine area veterans addressed the Supervisors regarding the future of the Vets Club building. Although Vets Club Incorporated has owned the building since 1950, it leases the land on which it is located from Allamakee County.

The veterans lamented to the Board about difficulties they have had keeping a tenant in the building.

“For the past  8 - 10 years, seems like it’s been hard to try to get a manager in there. The last two have left us where we’ve  had to pay their bills,” said John Regan Jr.

Regan cited low participation in the organization leading to a grim financial outlook.

“We got an organization that’s falling apart. The younger generation doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Vets Club or us. Some of the later veterans who have joined us are not active and it’s just getting tough to keep the place going,” said Regan.

Regan said he and his colleagues have “heard rumors” the county or museum may be looking for storage.

“We’d like to try to work a deal with the county on the Vets Club itself,” added Regan, explaining all the veterans require is a dry place to store their flags and a small place to hold meetings on a regular basis.

“We were thinking about maybe keeping the lower half for meetings - to store flags and guns - and we’re open to suggestions for the rest of it,” he said.

Supervisor Larry Schellhammer next asked if the vets closed down the business side of the organization, where they would receive their income.

Regan explained there is an apartment upstairs that is rented on a regular basis. And although they receive monthly rent of $300, they recently remodeled the space, investing about $21,000.

Regan also explained the last restaurant tenant, Nate Collins, had signed a lease for $150 a week.

“We signed a note for him for $5,000 to get him started and he’s paid that back,” said Regan.

“For the past two months we’ve paid the electric bill and heating bill. We’ve also paid some of his insurance. We just can’t afford to do that any more,” he said.

When asked, Regan said it probably costs around $250 to heat the building, including the upstairs.

When Virgil Thorstenson asked the Board what options the Board saw for the Vets Club moving forward, Schellhammer responded, “That’s what we’re here to talk about.”

Tom Regan next explained the city has given the vets space to store their flags for now.

When Schellhammer asked if the vets have any other outstanding loans, John Regan explained they owe about $9,000, which they feel they could recoup by selling off their assets, such as restaurant equipment and fixtures and their shuffleboard set.

Tom Regan explained the vets’ overall goal is “to do something with that property that benefits both the community and the veterans.”

When asked if they found a buyer for the building, if the new owner would have the first right of refusal to renew the contract for the land, which expires in 2025, Supervisor Dan Byrnes said, “The county is under no obligation to renew it.”

Byrnes added the Board is just going into a “difficult budgeting season,” but liked Tom Regan’s suggestion of putting together a working group to figure out some sort of solution for the veterans.

“It’s such an interesting location (the Vets Club), I don’t think the city or county would like to see a private individual in between us,” said Byrnes.

Meeting set
Supervisor Dennis Koenig added he felt everyone was on the same page about trying to come up with a positive solution to the vets’ concerns and suggested a meeting.

Schellhammer suggested including representatives of the Historical Society and the city.

A meeting was set for Thursday, January 9, at 9 a.m. in the Supervisors chambers.

“I will contact the city and museum, and we should get an opinion from the County Attorney.  I think we can work to a solution. I certainly don’t have one today,” added Schellhammer.

In other matters, the Board approved a number of appointments to local commissions and boards.

Jan Ellingson was reappointed to the Allamakee County Board of Health for a term of three  years.

Marilyn Clark and Steve Weymiller were appointed to the Allamakee County Conservation Board. Clark will serve a five-year term, and Weymiller will fill the remainder of Bill Moody’s term, as he is stepping down.

Historic Preservation Chair Gloria Payne was re-appointed to another three-year term on the Commission, and Ann Klees will replace Steve Weymiller on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

January 6 Meeting
It’s National Mentoring Month and the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors understand the impact youth mentoring can have on communities.

At Monday’s meeting, the Board signed a proclamation designating January as National Mentoring Month.

Kathy Schwartzhoff, mentoring coordinator with Helping Services for Youth and families, visited with the Board to explain how mentoring works in northeast Iowa.

The mission of Youth Mentoring at Helping Services is to “connect youth with a caring adult who can help them aspire, achieve and develop to their fullest potential.”

Schwartzhoff explained that last year in Allamakee, Delaware, Howard and Winneshiek counties, her organization served a total of 148 youth in 2020, with 191 people serving as volunteers.(Although HSYF serves Bremer, Fayette, Chickasaw and Clayton counties, those counties have other mentoring programs.)

Of those, she said 93 percent of the youth involved reported positive relationships with caring adults and their peers, 95 percent said they can say “no” to drugs and many created life-long friendships.

In Allamakee County, there are 15 youth paired with adult mentors and five more are waiting to be matched.

Funding request
In a related matter, Carson Eggland, director of Helping Services for Youth and Families, thanked the supervisors for their past support and put in a request for $1,500 in funding for fiscal year 2021.

He explained HSYF has a $1.7 million budget and that 80 percent of their funding comes from government grants. The other 20 percent comes from private donations and fundraisers, such as Holiday Nights, Magical Nights and the Youth Mentoring Bowl-a-thon.

In addition to mentoring, programs available in HSYF’s seven-county region include a domestic abuse resource center, family education and support programs, substance abuse prevention programs and a family education and support program.

Also requesting funding at Monday’s meeting was Trisha Wilkins, executive director of Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation (NEICAC).

Wilkins requested $57,156 in assistance from Allamakee County, pointing out her organization has provided $398,657 in direct assistance to county residents last year. (The county provided $15,000 in funding in FY 2019 and 2020.)

NEICAC serves a seven-county area of Allamakee, Winneshiek, Howard, Chickasaw, Fayette, Bremer and Clayton counties.

Programs include low-income energy assistance and conservation education, utility and rent assistance, head start, Wheels 4 Work, transit and more.

Wilkins explained her organization is fortunate to receive a large amount of funding from the government for direct assistance, but it is always in need of funding for administrative costs.

“We have to be able to pay people to provide these services,” she said, adding the assistance given to Allamakee County residents help free up their limited resources and have a positive impact on the local economy.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) Director Deana Hageman asked the Board to consider her funding request for $4,000 in fiscal year 2021, up from the $2,000 in funding RSVP received last year.

“We need to look at how we can continue to grow,” said Hageman.

Hageman explained that in Allamakee County, RSVP assists with the AARP Tax Aide Program and VISTA, the food pantry, home-delivered meals, community prioritized stations and with disaster assistance.

In Allamakee County, a total of 78 volunteers put in 5,500 hours at nine different locations throughout the county.

Throughout the three-county service area of Allamakee, Howard and Winneshiek County, 408 volunteers put in 28,043 hours of time, which is equivalent to $631,720 in value.

She said one goal for the coming year is to increase their utilization of internal volunteers to help with a variety of administrative duties, which will allow the staff to have more time to focus on more specific programs.

Main Street Lansing
Andy Kelleher of Main Street Lansing put in a request to the county for $3,000 in funding.

He highlighted his organization’s recent market study, which drew 488 consumer and 51 business responses, a fact which has garnered Lansing some attention.

“Marion has 40 times our population and they only got something like 700 responses,” he said.

Moving forward, Kelleher said the market study found that people are interested in finding a way to connect those coming for the area’s many tourist activities to downtown. Also suggested were a number of improvements that could be made to the downtown infrastructure to make it more accessible.

He said he was pleased the study didn’t garner a lot of “fluffy responses” and said most of them were quite actionable.

He said one of his first steps will be to host a social media training and that he will be partnering with the Lansing City Council to make their meetings and information more accessible.

“I’ve just started doing a Lansing Business Spotlight on YouTube and I have a waitlist now - businesses asking me to do them,” said Kelleher.

Compensation Board
In other matters, Bill Shafer, representing the County Compensation Board, explained the Board met December 11.

He said while most counties typically raise the pay of elected officials between 2 and 4 percent each year, his Board is interested in getting Allamakee County’s compensation more in line with other counties.

“After a great deal of discussion, we are recommending a $1,500 across-the-board raise for elected officials. This is a one-time raise. We also recommend a 3 percent cost-of-living raise,” said Shafer.

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