April 22, 2019 - 1:53 pm - Posted in News

Northwest Iowa — While it was slow to develop, it appears the effects of the current El Nino weather pattern will hang around for a while — likely several months.

Meteorologist Dennis Todey, director of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub says they expect a longer-than-average El Nino, which typically means warmer, wetter weather for our area.

An El Nino occurs when Pacific Ocean surface temperatures rise, which in turn impacts weather across North America. An El Nino can last just nine to 12 months or sometimes as long as seven years. Todey says the center is predicting warmer-than-normal temperatures at least through early summer.

Todey says the long-range outlook calls for above-normal rainfall for most of the summer.

It follows a snowy winter and a rainy early spring which led to record flooding on the Missouri River and significant flooding on the Mississippi and elsewhere, with billions of dollars damage in Iowa and several neighboring states.

April 22, 2019 - 1:23 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — The Iowa Legislature could wrap its business for the session this week, and their final budget will impact how much the students at the three state-supported universities pay in tuition.

The Board of Regents held off on setting tuition at their meeting last week as president Mike Richards reiterated the process set in the board’s new five-year-tuition model.

Richards says they want to know how much of the money they requested will be approved by state leaders.

Under the model designed to give students and parents predictability, the Regents will use a formula to set the tuition at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

The formula for tuition at the University of Northern Iowa is different.

It is not clear how the tuition rate would be impacted at the University of Northern Iowa if the Board of Regents does not receive the amount of state money they requested. The board is expected to hold the first reading on the tuition rates at its June meeting.

Amy Sinclair

Statewide Iowa — Students at Northwest Iowa Community College, along with all of the state’s other community colleges, as well as university campuses in Ames, Iowa City and Cedar Falls would be able to carry stun guns on campus if a bill that is likely to pass next week does become law.

Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, says the reality is there’s an elevated risk of assault on college campuses.

Representative Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, says current Iowa law lets anyone above the age of 18 carry a stun gun, but some public colleges and universities have campus-wide bans on the devices.

Windschitl says stun guns are not lethal.

Nine senators and 37 members of the Iowa House opposed the bill. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, says a college campus — especially a football stadium — is not a place you’d want stun guns.

Representative Chris Hall, a Democrat from Sioux City, opposed the bill, suggesting it is condescending to women.

The proposal won approval in the Iowa Senate in mid-March. The House voted to add language that would prohibit anyone with a felony conviction from carrying a stun gun on a public college or university campus in Iowa. The Senate is expected to approve that caveat this coming week and send the bill to the governor for her review.

April 19, 2019 - 3:03 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — The state unemployment rate remained unchanged once again in March, and has now been at the historically low 2.4% level since October. The latest seasonally-unadjusted unemployment figures for northwest Iowa are down.

Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Donna Burkett, says the major disaster issues that hit in March didn’t influence the numbers.

She says the lack of flood impact on the unemployment rate could be attributed to several factors.

There were some areas that lost jobs in the month.

The construction industry has been off to a slow start, and also lost some jobs in March.

Burkett says they should learn more about the flooding impact when the April job numbers come out. She says there’s also a possibility that the flood repairs could have some impact on the construction industry. The leisure and hospitality industry rebounded from declines in February to add one-thousand jobs in March. Overall though, the total number of working Iowans was 5400 higher than February. And Burkett says Iowa is still one of the states with the lowest unemployment in the country.

The unemployment rate was 2.7% one year ago. The U-S. unemployment rate remained at 3.8% in March.

The latest county-by-county figures are those for February. In northwest Iowa, Lyon and Osceola counties were tied for the lowest unemployment at 1.8%. That’s a tie with several counties for third place, behind 1.7 in Johnson County and 1.4 in Story County. Those figures are not adjusted for seasonal employment like construction and resort work, so they’re naturally a little higher in the winter. But they’re down from January when Lyon County had 2.3 and Osceola had 2.2. Sioux County’s February figure was 2.2%, down from 2.6% in January. O’Brien’s February rate was 2.3, down from 2.6 in January. All four rates are lower than the February rates for 2018.

April 19, 2019 - 9:51 am - Posted in News

Larchwood, Iowa — The Grand Falls Casino near Larchwood has agreed to pay a fine for allowing an underage gambler on the gaming floor.

Officials say the casino agreed to the 20-thousand-dollar fine on Thursday. Iowa Racing and Gaming Administrator, Brian Ohorilko says the casino discovered the issue and reported it.

The female was discovered after leaving and then coming back. Ohorilko says this is a rare occurrence for this casino.

The fines charged the casinos for these violations are based on the number of violations in a 365 day period. The Racing and Gaming Commission approved the fine at their monthly meeting in Council Bluffs.

April 18, 2019 - 3:23 pm - Posted in News

Northwest Iowa — Since it’s spring, and we can once again dig in the ground, April is National Safe Digging Month – a time to remember to always call 811 before excavating or digging.

Every six minutes in the U.S., an underground utility line is damaged because someone started digging without first calling 811. MidAmerican Energy is the electric and gas company serving Sheldon and a number of other northwest Iowa communities. MidAmerican spokesperson Geoff Greenwood tells us it’s very important.

He says it’s very easy to ask for lines and pipes to be located.

Greenwood tells us that the person or entity doing the digging is the one who should call 811. If a contractor is doing digging on your property, you should make sure they have called 811 first. He says it’s a nationwide number, so it should work anywhere in the United States. It’s a free service.

Statewide Iowa — The 2019 Iowa legislature may be poised to increase the number of working Iowans who can claim a tax credit for child care expenses.

Parents with an annual income above $45-thousand are NOT currently eligible. A bill that’s cleared a senate subcommittee would make Iowa parents who earn up to $57-thousand a year eligible for child care tax credits. Hull Republican Senator Randy Feenstra has been working on the proposal.

Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says it’s a significant move.

The bill also would set up indexing for these child care tax credits. It means there would be annual, incremental increases in the income level at which a parent is eligible to receive a tax credit for child care expenses.

Northwest Iowa — It’s been said that Iowa has two seasons: “snow removal” and “road construction.” Hopefully we’re done with snow removal until late fall. That means it’s time for road construction.

We talked with Iowa DOT Transportation Planner Dakin Schultz recently, and he told us about construction projects planned on state and federal highways in northwest Iowa this year.

He says that the project will probably start in May. He tells us they do have just a little work on Highway 18 between Sanborn and Hartley to finish.

According to Schultz, that project will involve both lanes of Highway 60.

As we reported recently, there is also a patching project on Highway 71 through the heart of the Okoboji area, but if all goes well, it should be done before Memorial Day.

We also talked to the county highway engineers in our area and we’ll tell you what projects will happen on the county roads in future stories.

April 18, 2019 - 12:29 pm - Posted in News

Statewide Iowa — Law enforcement officers across the state will be out in force the next couple of days in a “4/20” specialized enforcement campaign. 4/20 is the unofficial national “holiday” for those who smoke marijuana.

The project is called Drive High, Get an OWI, as Iowa State Patrol Trooper Nick Erdmann explains.

Normally when we think of impaired driving we think of alcohol, but Erdmann says drugs are often more of an issue than alcohol.

He says even prescription drugs can cause problems.

Trooper Erdmann says driving impaired, whether due to alcohol or drugs, can put a big pinch on your pocketbook.

He says those costs pale, however, in comparison to the consequences of being involved in an accident in which somebody is hurt or killed.

Law enforcement officers at the state, county and city level will be out and about Friday and Saturday for the 4/20 enforcement project. And to those drivers who are NOT impaired by drugs or alcohol, Trooper Erdmann says his best advise is to watch out for impaired drivers, and drive defensively.

April 18, 2019 - 11:23 am - Posted in News

Sheldon, Iowa — Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon is suspending one of their long-offered courses of study.

John Hartog is vice-president for student and academic services at NCC, and he says the suspension of the carpentry and construction trades program is not a decision that was made lightly.

Hartog says the college’s board of trustees approved the suspension earlier this week.

He says one of the great things about community colleges is that they’re structured to respond to the needs of the community.

Hartog says this decision affects the college, the community and the program’s instructor. He spoke in glowing terms about that instructor, Ryan Cannoy.

Hartog says he has reached out to all the students who had committed to attending NCC for their Carpentry and Construction Technology program, and informed them the program will no longer be offered at the Sheldon institution.