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Water woes

Special election scheduled May 7 to repeal LOSST

It's going to the polls.

Recently, Clarke County Board of Supervisors received a petition from a group of citizens to repeal the Local Option Sales and Services Tax (LOSST).

A special election was scheduled May 7 to vote on the following public measure to repeal the tax in the areas of Clarke County where it is imposed.

This includes LOSST 2008 with the city of Woodburn, LOSST 2009 with the city of Osceola and LOSST 2010 with the city of Murray.

The special election could cost the county approximately $10,000.

"It's important, I think, for the reservoir commission to get some information out about the importance of the local option sales tax to the project," said David W. Beck, executive director of Southern Iowa Resource Conservation and Development Area, during Clarke County Reservoir Commission's (CCRC) meeting Jan. 10.

Water project

The special election is in response to CCRC's Squaw Creek Watershed project, which will provide a water supply for Osceola and Southern Iowa Rural Water Association (SIRWA) with an 816-acre lake that provides 2.2 million gallons of water per day.

The total project cost for the reservoir in the Squaw Creek Watershed is estimated at $35.5 million. Funding the project includes many sources, especially LOSST.

Basically, in the special election, in order to keep the sales tax in place, people would have to vote "no" on the ballot, or more specifically, if they are in favor of the Squaw Creek Watershed project.

If they think LOSST should be repealed, or are against the water project, they may vote "yes."

Jack Cooley, a former Clarke County Supervisor, decided to stay on the CCRC as the commission's representative from the supervisors.

Cooley said it was the only committee he chose to remain on, specifically to see the water project through. He called the special election "the most important election in the history of Clarke County."

Questions addressed

During the Jan. 10 meeting, a question and answer sheet from the CCRC public hearing held in December, was made available.

The first question addressed on the sheet was "Will property taxes increase?"

The answer was "The project financial plan does not include any component that relies on a property-tax increase. About 93 percent of the project funding is currently identified."

The second question was "What is the financial impact going to be on the citizens of Clarke County?"

The answer was "The Local Option Sales and Services Tax (LOSST), dedicated to the water supply project since 2008, is the major cost to Clarke County citizens. Residents of Osceola, Woodburn and Murray currently are paying those taxes on services such as cell phones and cable TV. Everyone, including non-residents of Clarke County, who purchase goods and services from businesses within those cities also pay those taxes. Landowners who choose to install sediment basins planned to protect the water supply lake will be asked to pay about 25 percent of the cost of those conservation practices. That is currently estimated to be about $10,000 per sediment basin."

Eminent domain

Also during the Jan. 10 meeting, the commission approved the resolution authorizing judicial review of eminent domain authority.

"This is essentially your official action to authorize your attorney, your law firm, whoever's approving it, to file for the declaratory judgment action," Beck said. "Essentially, what you're doing is you'll be filing a lawsuit. You'll be naming the owners within the impacted area, acquisition area. They'll be actually served notices so that they're aware of it, and that gives the opportunity to participate in the court process."

Beck estimated the filing time would be around Feb. 1 in Clarke County District Court.

Beck had the idea of drafting a letter to the landowners before they are served so they were aware of what's coming up.

"I imagine they're going to get it, and it's going to be in 'legalese' that nobody will really know what it is. I think they should know in layman's terms what's happening," said Dan McIntosh with SIRWA.

60 inches

Sue Wilder, CCRC's representative from Clarke County Development Corporation, gave an update on the water levels at West Lake, the current source for water consumption. She said the water at West Lake is 60 inches (5 feet) below the spillway.

"And 72 inches is mandatory reduction of usage of water," Wilder said. "So, we have 12 inches, and that's not a lot because when it starts going down, it goes fast."

Later in the meeting, Wilder added, "The people that probably will get cut first will be like the car washes. Well, Wash and Weigh is affiliated with Hormel with washing out their trailers. So that's going to affect Hormel. So, everybody needs to conserve as much as we can now before we get to that point, if you can."

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