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Jason Parrott

Southeast Iowa Correspondent

Jason is the Southeast Iowa News Correspondent. He established Tri States Public Radio's news bureau in Keokuk in September 2003.  The bureau has moved from his apartment to the Hotel Iowa before landing in its current location at the Daily Gate City newspaper at 1016 Main.  Jason provides short- and long-form news coverage from southeast Iowa, northeast Missouri, and portions of west-central Illinois. Jason covers multiple governmental boards including the Keokuk City Council, the Lee County Board of Supervisors and the Burlington School Board. Jason was born in Burlington, IA and grew up in neighboring Henderson County before graduating from Monmouth High School.  He graduated from WIU in 2002 with Bachelor’s Degrees in Communications and History.  While in Macomb, he was a member of the WIU Track & Field team, serving as Captain during his senior year. Jason received his Master’s Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield in 2003. He and his wife Jamie, a middle school teacher, have called Quincy home since 2007.  They have two dogs (Howie and Sadie), one nephew and several god-children. During Jason’s free time, he enjoys watching sports, spending time with friends, playing fantasy football and traveling to the Lake of the Ozarks with his wife.

Ways to Connect

The West Burlington School District has agreed to sell its former middle school to the city for just $1.

Superintendent Dave Schmitt says this is the best option for the entire community.

“We could have gotten $5,000-$10,000 for the building,” says Schmitt, “but then there could have been that risk that it become dilapidated or an eyesore for our community.”

The city plans to tear down the former school at 211 Ramsey Street so several new homes can be built, one of which would be targeted to low-income families.

Lee County could be forced to expand its jail earlier than anticipated.

A major expansion and renovation of the Lee County Correctional Center wrapped up in mid-2010.

The roughly $6-million dollar project pushed the current capacity of the facility to 92 inmates.

It also improved security and made it easier for correctional officers to oversee more inmates.

Another aspect of the expansion/renovation put the infrastructure (water, electric) in place to allow the jail to eventually be expanded to hold up to 144 inmates.

The Keokuk School Board is weighing future goals versus current needs as it considers cutting next year’s budget.

The panel met for nearly two hours, Monday night, to review the administration’s plan for closing a $1.3-million shortfall.

It calls for the use of @$580,000 in cash reserves and $700,000 in cuts.

The cash reserves are being looked at as a one-time revenue source, so the same amount would likely be needed through cuts next year.

Keokuk’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012 attempts to get the city back on track when it comes to equipment and infrastructure.

The city council has approved the roughly $29-million spending plan after working on it for several months and holding multiple Saturday workshops.

The numbers show that most departmental budgets will be at or just slightly above their level in the current city budget.

Mayor Tom Marion says holding down spending was one goal for the new budget.

There is a significant gap between Keokuk and some of its union employees as contract negotiations get underway.

The city has exchanged initial offers with representatives of the Teamsters Local #238, which represents employees in the police department, the wastewater treatment plant and the general unit.

The city is seeking a one-year contract with each group of employees.  Each offer calls for a wage freeze for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012.

Around The Region

Mar 5, 2012

WARSAW, IL

Warsaw could be forced to borrow money to get by while it waits for reimbursements from the state of Illinois.

Mayor Gary Treatch says the state owes the city $52,000.  That represents five months worth of late payments.

He says Warsaw’s general fund is down to @$22,000, which would not cover March payroll.

Treatch says the city could be forced to borrow money against its future property tax revenue to get by until the state catches up.

He says the maximum Warsaw could borrow would be roughly $125,000.

 

FORT MADISON, IA

The Keokuk City Council is proceeding with a multi-million dollar infrastructure project.

The Keokuk Municipal airport has two runways.  The length of one is 5,500 feet while the other is 3,800 feet.

The city is looking to resurface the longer runway as early as this summer. 

Airport Manager Greg Gobble says the work would be done in shifts to allow the airport to remain open.

The Federal Aviation Administration must review the plans because the height of the runway increasing by 6” could impact the agency’s equipment.

City leaders in Warsaw say two new taxes will result in better streets.

The city council voted, this week, to establish a pair of utility taxes.

One of the taxes would be on the electricity delivered by Ameren Illinois.

The ordinance establishes a sliding scale for residential or business use within the city.

The other tax would be on natural gas and its delivery from Nicor.

Instead of a sliding scale, residents and businesses would be charged a 5% tax.

The Keokuk School Board must make some serious cuts to next year’s budget.

Superintendent Lora Wolff says the district will actually lose roughly $550,000 in state aid because of its declining enrollment.

She says dwindling revenues and increasing expenditures mean balancing the spending plan for the 2012/2013 school year will require a reduction of $1.3-million.

The district plans to use cash reserves and unspent balances to cover nearly $600,000.

The rest of the shortfall ($700,000) will have to come from budget modifications.

Steve Dunn - Daily Gate City

Tyler Hobbs of St. Francisville, MO has been found guilty of 1st Degree Murder in the death of Shawn Wright of Kahoka, MO.

Wright was killed near a farmhouse in rural Lee County on November 6, 2010.  He was hit in the head with a mallet multiple times.

His body was found on November 9, 2010  after being dumped near a levee in Gregory Landing, MO.

The jury of seven women and five men delivered the unanimous verdict to Judge Mary Ann Brown in Iowa District Court at about 2:15 P.M. this afternoon.

The panel deliberated for just over two hours.

Supporters of a proposed sports complex in western Fort Madison have received some good news from the state.

Tim Gobble with Fort Madison Partners says more than $2-million has been pledged or donated to build three baseball/softball diamonds and three football/soccer fields.

That includes $1.25-million from Fort Madison’s branch of the Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission, $500,000 from the city, and $175,000 from Pinnacle Foods.

That’s more than 60% of what is needed for the project to move forward.

A trial date has been set for a Hamilton man accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

August Dion Gregory, 44, appeared before Judge Richard Gambrell, this morning, for a pre-trial hearing at the Hancock County Courthouse in Carthage.

Gregory’s lawyer, Stephen Morris of Hamilton, used the hearing to request more time to review the evidence in the case.

Hancock County State’s Attorney Jim Drozdz responded by saying the people were ready to proceed to trial.

Lee County has been called the “Poster Child” for unemployment in Iowa.

Help could be on the way with the possible development of a fertilizer plant, but that would be just the start of what is needed to reverse years of job losses.

A recently-released study highlights the county’s strengths and weaknesses, but taking advantage of that information requires community support and interest.

Phil Chancellor of Keokuk has more free time on his hands now that he has retired after a career in the field of high-tech telecommunications.

The latest winners of the Spirit of Keokuk award will be announced during the 22nd Annual Affiliates dinner.

The Affiliates organization includes the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Keokuk, the Keokuk Area Convention and Tourism Bureau and Keokuk Economic Development Corporation.

Chamber of Commerce Director Chuck Betts says more than 75 people have been honored over the last two decades for their contributions to Keokuk.

“The phrase that has been used ever since they started was without them, it would not have happened,” says Betts.

Southeast Iowa’s Congressman is looking to his constituents for ideas to protect the future of Social Security.

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) says he would not be where he is today without the program.

He says Social Security helped his family get by while he was growing up and helped him afford to go to college.

The Congressman says that is why lawmakers must make sure the program remains solvent for decades to come.

The Burlington City Council has made its choice for city manager official.

The panel voted unanimously on Thursday night to appoint James Ferneau to the post.

His first day as city manager will be April 23.

Ferneau has been serving as City Administrator of Sergeant Bluff, IA.

Burlington Mayor Jim Davidson says Ferneau stood out from the other finalists.

Lee County is pledging its support to an effort to land a new industry.

The Board of Supervisors has agreed to meet, or even exceed, the 20% local match required for Iowa Fertilizer Company to receive state funding.

The company is considering the county for a $1.3-billion fertilizer plant.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board has signed off on tax credits and $1.6-million in loans for the project, half of which would be forgiven if certain requirements are met.

Around The Region

Feb 23, 2012

LEE COUNTY

The Iowa Department of Transportation is selling some of its property in Lee County.

Bids are due by 1:00 P.M. on March 14, 2012 on a nearly 52-acres piece of property located approximately six miles west of West Point.

The agency says the land has been appraised at $124,200.

The sale must be cash only.

 

LEE COUNTY

The Lee County Auditor’s Office is looking for someone to help with Election Day preparations.

The department is seeking bids to pick-up and drop-off about 100 pieces of voting equipment, booths and signs.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board is paving the way for a pair of projects in southeast Iowa.

During a meeting on Friday, the board signed off on a $1.6-million dollar award for the development of a large-scale fertilizer plant on 300 acres of land near Wever in northern Lee County.

The funding for Iowa Fertilizer Company will come through a forgivable loan, a loan, and tax benefits.

The company is a subsidiary of Orascom Construction Industries out of Cairo, Egypt.

Keokuk’s mayor delivered his 3rd “State of the City” address during this week’s Recognition, Appreciation, and Participation Breakfast.

Job creation and finances were prominent topics during the nearly 30-minute speech.

Mayor Tom Marion decided to get the bad news out of the way early in his speech to about 75 people at the Keokuk Country Club.

He started off by looking at the city’s revenue situation, breaking down how much money comes in through property taxes, TIF districts and state and federal aid.

The six men vying to be Burlington’s next city manager have plenty on their schedules while in town this weekend.

The selection process gets underway Friday morning with individual tours of the city.

Each candidate will be joined by a member of the city council and a representative of the Chamber of Commerce.

8:30 A.M. – 10:30 A.M. – William Way

9:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. – Ronald Chandler

10:30 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. – Alan Lanning

12:00 P.M. – 2:00 P.M. – Edward Sadler

1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M. – Steven Winger

LEE COUNTY

The Lee County Board of Supervisors and the union representing employees of the Sheriff’s Office have each signed off on a new two year employment contract.

The deal includes a 3%wage increase on July 1and a 1.5%increase on July 1, 2013.

It also changes holiday pay calculations,requires quicker use of vacation time and increases deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums related to health insurance.

The new contract runs through June 30, 2014.

 

FORT MADISON - SCHOOL

One local mayor says Lee County would be better off making his community the home of county government.

The Park Ridge Workshop complex in Montrose features more than 30,000 square feet of space.

The price tag for the three steel buildings has been reduced to $385,000.

Mayor Bob Reid says they could house the Lee County Conservation and Health Departments as opposed to a brand new building along Highway 61.

In fact, he says the buildings are large enough to handle all of county government, especially with expansion capabilities.

Lee County is looking into whether a construction project is damaging county roads.

Crews are working to raise the levee surrounding the Green Bay Drainage District.

Several residents told the Lee County Board of Supervisors, during this week’s meeting, that some gravel roads are being severely damaged by the heavy equipment needed for the project.

They say the contractor is using a shortcut instead of utilizing off-road opportunities.

Fort Madison residents can weigh in on the city’s spending plan next week.

A public hearing and the initial city council vote on the $25-million spending plan are scheduled for Tuesday, February 21.

City Manager Byron Smith says the budget could be considered status quo.

“I would not say bare-bone, but it is kind of basic for what we are doing,” says Smith.  “We did not propose any major staffing increases or decreases.”

Smith says money is available for employee raises and to expand nuisance enforcement.

Lee County is being asked to help enhance rural recycling opportunities.

The Great River Regional Waste Authority has about a dozen community trailers located throughout the county, including two in Donnellson.

That city is looking to switch to a curbside recycling program, which would prevent rural residents from dropping off their recyclables.

General Manager Wade Hamm says the authority is asking the county to hire a hauler to transport all of its trailers to the Fort Madison facility.

Around The Region

Feb 12, 2012

West Burlington

The Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission is working on a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for its region: Des Moines, Henry, Lee & Louisa Counties.

Executive Director Mike Norris says the goal is to create a single plan for housing, economic development, transportation and infrastructure.

He says the commission received more than 300 online surveys and conducted another 60 interviews as part of the public input phase.

The Des Moines County Board of Supervisors appears willing to help one of the county’s largest employers.

Representatives of Great River Medical Center have approached the county about issuing $60-million in bonds on the hospital’s behalf.

The money being borrowed would be split between the construction of a new building and to refinance some of the hospital’s previous debt.

The Klein Center nursing facility will have about 160 bed, which is an increase compared to the current structure.

Jason Parrott’s guest is Russ Derr, who is the principal at Wells Carey and George Washington Elementary Schools.  They talk about the Weekend Backpack Nutrition program in Keokuk.

Students within the Keokuk School District are in the midst of a 3 ½ day weekend due to parent-teacher conferences.

Derr says students in homes where there is not a lot of food have learned to make it through a regular weekend before they can return for breakfast on Monday morning.

He says the extra time off makes it more difficult for students to get by.

Lee County must wait a little longer to put its proposed budget for next year on display.

The Board of Supervisors was ready to set a public hearing on the roughly $26-million spending for Tuesday, Feb. 21.

That plan changed, though, after the county received an email from the state that said its proposed property tax rate must be changed.

CPC Administrator Ryanne Wood says Lee County brings in tax revenue to help pay for day-to-day services for those with mental health or other developmental disabilities.

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