Editorial Roundup: Iowa

De Moines Register. Oct. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Confronted by state inaction, voters can help Polk County invest in conservation and recreation

Polk County’s plan to build on a successful borrowing program for conservation and recreation would directly benefit the property tax payers who foot the bill, along with the rest of the county’s residents and many visitors. Voters should mark “yes” on their ballots Nov. 2.

For nine years, the county has been using money from the earlier $50 million Water & Land Legacy bonding to snatch up land for parks, flood control, water quality initiatives and more. It spent money on a stunning transformation of Easter Lake and on the Jester Park Nature Center. The investments helped to attract over $41 million in grants and other contributions to do even more.

That borrowing is not yet paid off. But the roster of worthwhile spending that Polk County Conservation and other groups could undertake after issuing new bonds is long. The Iowa Confluence Water Trails project would get a $15 million infusion. Plans to overhaul the now-county-owned Sleepy Hollow Sports Park could move along, as could years of work to address flood dangers in the Fourmile Creek watershed, as Des Moines neighborhoods experienced in 2018.

It’s all vitally important spending, and simultaneously not nearly enough. Alongside some truly local matters, Polk County is taking on pieces of what state government will not. Iowa voters over a decade ago approved dedicating a portion of revenue from the next state sales tax increase to a conservation trust fund. In a decade, the Legislature has not seen fit to raise the tax, to pass tougher laws to reduce pollution, or to appropriate money for conservation on a scale anywhere near what’s required by our state’s disgusting waters and Iowans’ exposure to natural disasters.

To the contrary, Republican leaders say the current $1.2 billion budget surplus should be used to lower income and other taxes. Again.

For what it’s worth, an editorial writer asked Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa, what one-time expenditure with surplus money would have the biggest effect. Jones said, “The No. 1 best thing we could do is buy land,” taking out of production flood plain acres that routinely ship pollutants downstream and into the Gulf of Mexico. “If I had the money, that’s what I would do.”

The money Iowa residents and businesses pocket from the likely inevitable tax cuts won’t be used to mitigate flood risks. It won’t be used to idle land and restore wildlife populations. It certainly won’t go toward equipment to test for contaminants in public waters. It probably won’t be used to build and maintain spaces where families can spend a relaxing afternoon or weekend for free.

Those things are the government’s job. Polk and Dubuque county officials are answering the call this fall by putting borrowing measures before voters.

The owner of a median-value property in Polk County, around $200,000, would pay about $11 annually toward the bond — a little more than a movie ticket.

Property owners will reap savings on water rates if water providers don’t have to spend as much on drawing and purifying water. And they’ll enjoy harder-to-quantify benefits: getting back places to go for fun, such as the Water Trails, and building a more inviting community that attracts new businesses and neighbors.

As in 2012, interest rates are favorable. Taxpayers of Central Iowa, an organization that monitors and evaluates government spending with skepticism, has endorsed the bond vote. In a fact sheet shared locally, it says that the projects appear to be worthy and that borrowing is probably the best way to obtain the money to spend on them.

This is not a close call. Polk County wants permission, and a modest contribution from property owners, to wisely spend money on projects that won’t get done any other way and will deliver either a financial return on investment, considerable benefits to the community as a whole, or both. Vote yes.

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Sioux City Journal. Oct. 31, 2021.

Editorial: Welcome Afghan refugees when they arrive in Siouxland

Somewhere, Robert Ray is smiling.

The late Iowa governor was a leader in the 1970s in opening the state’s doors to refugees from war-torn Southeast Asia.

He responded to a call from President Gerald Ford, asking states to provide new homes to people who were looking for a safe place to live and work.

Those refugees became productive, contributing members of society and showed naysayers those seeking a life in the United States weren’t coming to live out their worst fears. Many of the newcomers settled in the Sioux City area, landing jobs in the meatpacking industry and other businesses.

Ray was praised for making his state a welcoming home. His response: “We really only had two choices: We could either turn our backs as countless others suffered and died or we could extend a hand to help and, in doing so, prevent tragic loss of innocent lives.”

Once again, Iowans have been asked to step up and, this week, local agencies said up to 150 Afghan refugees could be calling Siouxland home.

That’s good news on several fronts. Iowa can enforce its reputation as a welcoming state and it can begin filling those jobs that have been vacant since the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on businesses.

The refugees are American allies who aided our country’s war effort and were vulnerable under Taliban rule, according to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. They want to be here. They want to lead productive lives.

Because there is a language barrier and an affordable housing shortage, there will be hurdles. But local agencies – like the Mary J. Treglia Community House and Lutheran Services in Iowa – have pledged to help find jobs, housing and, for younger refugees, a workable transition into our schools.

Also in tow: The Iowa National Guard and the 185th Air Refueling Wing. They’ll be assigned to an undisclosed location in the United States to help with Operation Allies Welcome.

Then, once the Afghans arrive, it’s our turn to show how good we, as Iowans, can be.

Talk to folks who benefited when Ray stepped up nearly 50 years ago and they’ll tell you it was a win/win for everyone.

Opportunity is knocking. Once again, we have a chance to demonstrate the door is open to a brighter future.

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Quad-City Times. Oct. 31, 2021.

Editorial: We must get better

These days, news comes at us like a gusher. From the national, state and local level, it’s hard to figure out what to focus on.

We have one suggestion: last week’s release of the 2021 Community Health Assessment for the Quad-City area.

The results presented by the Quad City Health Initiative were pretty stark: we’re failing in comparison to our peers statewide and across the country in a wide variety of areas measuring overall health and wellness.

This was true even before the pandemic, but as with much of our world, Covid has only exacerbated the difficulties people are having. And the economic disparities and inequalities that exist in our community make matters even worse.

One of the more striking findings is that, by our own admission, our health is getting worse.

Nearly 25% (24.8%) of people surveyed by the authors of the assessment rated their health “fair” or “poor,” a sharp increase from three years ago when that figure was 19.3%. By comparison, those figures for the state of Illinois and Iowa are 17.7% and 14.4%, respectively.

The assessment included a community survey of 1,150 people in Scott, Rock Island and Muscatine counties.

We also see our mental health deteriorating. Since the pandemic, 25.6% reported their mental health had worsened. This, in an area where, according to the report, nearly 31% have been diagnosed with some kind of depressive disorder. (This includes depression, major depression, dysthymia or minor depression.)

The community health assessment, which is conducted periodically by county health departments and area health care providers, also includes secondary data analysis and input from focus groups.

The report says there are a number of areas needing improvement – from heart disease, obesity, mental health, diabetes, access to care, crime and cancer, among others. A new concern that appeared on this year’s list was respiratory disease.

It’s not all bad news. The surveys have shown improvement in smoking, older adults getting flu vaccinations and access to health care.

Still, it wasn’t an encouraging report.

From here, the stakeholders will focus on three areas of concentrations (in 2018, they were nutrition, physical activity and weight; access to healthcare; and mental health). Then they will update community health improvement plans.

It strikes us that local government leaders trying to figure out how to spend Covid relief money might also take a hard look at this report, if they haven’t already.

The pandemic’s impact can be clearly seen in this assessment, and we can think of no better area to devote the additional resources the federal government provided to help us recover from its impact.

It’s true that some local governments have already made decisions on how to spend the money, and some have — and are — considering health and well-being. But just as we’ve seen a lot of money go to infrastructure, we also believe that physical well-being must be addressed, too. This assessment is a good guide for what needs fixing.

One finding from focus groups that were a part of the assessment was this: people need help navigating complex healthcare systems. For many, that is the first step to getting better, and it’s apparent that door still isn’t open for everybody. (The report said nearly 43% of people reported some difficulty or delay in getting health care services in the past year.) Improving our ability to open that door, it seems to us, would be a significant step forward and could be a likely area for investment.

But there are plenty of other areas needing improvement, too.

Daniel Joiner, diversity and community impact officer for UnityPoint Health-Trinity, said, “this report is the foundation of how the community can improve its overall health.”

It is in the public interest that we do that. To some extent, this is an individual responsibility. But our community can come together to lend assistance, especially to those who are the most vulnerable, and who were hit hardest by the pandemic.

We encourage everybody in our community to take note of this report. It is a sober, and much-needed, assessment of our community’s health and well-being.

Now, we must figure out how to get better.

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