Part 2 of 2
The Crawford County Board of Supervisors met with representatives of the Crawford County Firefighters Association (CCFFA) on December 17 to begin discussions on ownership of a radio tower on Ridge Road north of Denison.
CCFFA has claimed ownership of the tower since it was erected, but an investigation by several county residents and by Crawford County Auditor Terri Martens revealed that $280,000 of public funding from the E911 Service Board was used to build the tower.
The Ridge Road tower is a key part of Crawford County’s new land mobile radio (LMR) system, which is under development.
The supervisors and CCFFA agreed in the first part of the December 17 meeting to have two supervisors and two CCFFA members meet to work out an agreement that would then be presented to the full board of supervisors for action.
The following is an edited and condensed account of the last half of the meeting.
Supervisor Cecil Blum asked if CCFFA has ongoing expenses for operations at the tower.
Tim Zenk, CCFFA chairperson, said an extensive electric bill is paid monthly, along with maintenance and insurance.
Chairman Kyle Schultz asked Tim Zenk to bring the CCFFA’s numbers for expenses to the first small group meeting.
Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer said the small group should hammer out an agreement and bring it back to the board to be fully transparent.
“(If the) county takes control, we may look at the revenue streams and see what is a fair market value for revenue streams that are on that tower and charge fair market value for all entities on that tower and then it’s up to our discretion,” Muhlbauer said.
An agreement with CCFFA could include maintenance for the site and the use of revenue for CCFFA fire training, Muhlbauer said.
“One thing that needs to be crystal clear,” said Supervisor Cecil Blum, “I think that in good faith an agreement can be reached by the board and the fire association, and with the blessing of our county attorney, that may be agreeable to those parties that still may not fully satisfy everybody out in the community. I think that is a reasonable bottom line.”
Blum said he did not want to go back and look at 20 years of history as an agreement is worked out.
“If we negotiate something and we get a rough draft and it comes to this table and we have… another large turnout and if all the details of whatever agreement that we negotiate get fully fleshed out by the audience and there’s a consensus that we should approve it, I would expect that would be the direction we would go,” he said.
“How did this become a money maker for fire departments?” asked Peggy Staley, a Charter Oak City Council member. “Who made that decision?”
Staley was the individual primarily responsible for uncovering and bringing to light the $280,000 in public funds spent on the Ridge Road tower.
“I just think there are other groups out there that would maybe like to make money off of this,” she said. “I don’t know why… that is even an option. But how did that happen?”
“History. Real simple,” Blum said. “They (CCFFA) had the original tower and the original leases on the old tower. They took the initiative.”
“What do you mean, ‘They took the initiative?’” Staley asked.
CCFFA borrowed money, bought land, bought the (old) tower and arranged to lease the tower to other entities, Blum said.
“The rental situation was going on long before the (new) tower was built,” he said.
Staley pointed out that a new tower proposed for the Charter Oak area is going to go on land owned by Schultz, who will lease the land to the Charter Oak Fire Association.
The City of Charter Oak turned down the possibility of having the tower near the town’s water tower because of a lack of room and homeowners didn’t want it in their back yard, Staley said.
“But at the same time, I will you tell you the City of Charter Oak was never offered the opportunity to own the shelter and make money off that shelter,” she said.
She said it wouldn’t have made a difference, but she was curious about why the city wasn’t offered the opportunity when the Charter Oak Fire Association is being given the opportunity.
“Who is making those decisions?” she asked. “I’ll be blunt; I’m calling it the whoring out of components of the LMR system. It happened on Ridge Road. Now you’re going to do it in Charter Oak. Who is making that decision? Because it’s not being decided at this table.”
She asked if the Schleswig Fire Department was given an opportunity to profit from a shelter purchased for use with a Schleswig Verizon tower being used as part of the LMR system.
Blum said nothing had been decided in Charter Oak because the first testing had just started.
“It would be my hope if we get a… negotiated deal with the firefighters out on Ridge Road, we would use that template to go forward,” he said.
Blum said his opinion is that leases be in the name of Crawford County and that should be the beginning of negotiations.
A deal will likely involve the payment of county money, he said.
Landowners with wind turbine towers are paid $5,000 to $6,500 per tower per year, which should give an idea of what the county might pay, Blum said.
Crawford County Sheriff Jim Steinkuehler, who was in attendance, said the LMR system is needed because deputies faced dangerous situations and were unable to communicate with anyone in the past.
He said he did not understand the current issue.
“I assumed that when we’re going and buying towers or leasing them, we’re doing it through our LMR board and you, the county, are responsible,” Steinkuehler said. “Where did that ever change? I’m just asking, guys. I don’t know how this is working backwards.”
Supervisor Eric Skoog said a variety of different agreements might be used for new LMR towers.
The county doesn’t like to spend $4,000 to $5,000 per month to rent space on someone else’s tower, he said.
Supervisor Jeri Vogt asked if the county is negotiating for the Ridge Road tower but not the shack that sits on the same land.
“Oh, yes,” Blum said. “On Ridge Road we’re looking at everything.”
“It depends what you want,” said Duane Zenk, who is the paid E911 consultant and a member of the CCFFA.
“So it might not just be the tower,” Vogt said. “So we’re going to possibly do the whole ball of wax?”
Staley said the goal is to clear it up and get it all out in the open.
“We don’t need anyone from Des Moines to come in and do it,” Staley said. “It has to be done. I’ll just warn you I’m not going away until it’s done.”
Blum told her that he appreciates her efforts.
Schultz asked Tim Zenk how much time the CCFFA needs to put together a negotiating group.
“When the supervisors are ready, we can be ready,” Tim Zenk said.
Following the tower discussion, the Bulletin and Review asked the supervisors if they had concerns about the revelation that $280,000 of public money had been spent on the Ridge Road tower.
Crawford County Auditor Terri Martens determined the total two weeks ago.
“I think those dollar amounts are one reason we need to clarify ownership,” Blum said, “and if ownership ends up being with Crawford County, then I don’t think it’s a problem.”
The Bulletin and Review asked if the county is involved in something that happened under false pretenses.
“I don’t like the word false. I guess that, to me, implies maybe a crime,” Blum said. “Just me - I take a little exception to using the word false.”
“But I don’t know how many times I asked at this table how much we spent on this tower, and I was told $100,000,” Vogt said.
Skoog said $100,000 was the amount of a grant.
“But I asked how much was spent and I was told $100,000,” Vogt said. “Unless… someone didn’t understand the question, because I’ve asked that.”
The supervisors didn’t have any other comments about the $280,000 when queried again by the Bulletin and Review.
Blum and Muhlbauer volunteered to be the board’s representatives to the negotiations with the CCFFA.