The Crawford County Board of Supervisors on November 26 voted to approve up to $30,000 of archaeological testing for a proposed Charter Oak site for a radio tower that would be part of the county’s new land mobile radio (LMR) system.
The vote was 3-1, with Supervisor Jeri Vogt voting against and Chairman Kyle Schultz abstaining; Schultz is the current owner of the land in question.
Peggy Staley, a Charter Oak City Council member in attendance, raised concerns about the arrangement.
Staley said she thinks the supervisors could be making the same mistakes in Charter Oak she said they had made with a radio tower on Ridge Road, which the Crawford County Firefighters Association (CCFFA) says it owns.
She has been looking into the funding of the tower since May.
Duane Zenk, signing as chairman of the Crawford County E911 board, in 2016 requested a $100,000 state grant for a new radio tower on Ridge Road.
Zenk told the Bulletin and Review at the time that the CCFFA had applied for the grant.
He also said that additional local E911 funds would be used for the project.
As a private nonprofit, the CCFFA was not eligible for the grant or for the E911 funds.
Zenk asserts that the CCFFA owns the Ridge Road tower, though no document has been produced concerning the transfer of the tower and E911 board minutes don’t appear to reflect discussion of the subject.
The CCFFA receives rent payments from multiple entities for equipment on the tower, including Crawford County Memorial Hospital and the Crawford County Secondary Roads Department.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Staley asked the supervisors if they knew how much money had been spent on the Ridge Road tower.
“I think it could be up $277,000,” she said.
“We know how much we spent on it,” Schultz said while Staley was speaking.
“Yeah. Zero,” Zenk said.
“We know how much this board has put toward that tower,” Schultz said. “We’ve got the receipts to show that.”
Vogt asked if the total was $277,000.
“No,” Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer said.
Supervisor Cecil Blum asked Staley if the $277,000 was all government money.
“Ours is $100,000,” Schultz said while Blum was talking.
“Yeah, $100,000 from the grant,” Muhlbauer said.
Staley, responding to Blum, said her total was of government money, but some of the invoices did not specify whether work was for the Ridge Road tower or for a tower in Schleswig, so she could not be sure of the total.
“I’d say at least $250,000,” Staley said.
“And have you identified any money that was non–public money being spent on that tower?” Blum asked.
Staley said that Zenk had previously said that CCFFA had purchased a $6,000 generator and an $11,000 shelter (for equipment).
A copy of a $48,000 E911 invoice she received two weeks ago was for moving equipment from the old CCFFA tower on Ridge Road to the new tower.
“But also part of that was taking down their old tower,” she said. “I just don’t feel the county should be on the hook for that.”
Staley said she was not pointing fingers at the supervisors.
“You just happen to be the group of supervisors who are sitting here when this stuff is surfacing,” she said.
Staley, Dow City resident Beth Vogt and Denison Mayor Jared Beymer have a complaint concerning CCFFA and the Ridge Road tower with the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB). Staley said IPIB tabled the discussion in November, for the second time, with a request for more information.
She said she doesn’t think the Ridge Road tower is IPIB’s problem.
“They’re two hours away. They don’t know any of what’s gone on here,” Staley said.
“It really is your problem… it’s happening now and this is what you guys get paid to do.”
She offered her help in resolving the issue and figuring out who paid what.
“I just want to see it resolved and I don’t want a repeat of this in Charter Oak,” she said. “I fear that’s what’s going to happen but, like I said, you’re not to that stage, yet.”
Staley said she has concerns about who would be the lease negotiator for the county.
“Who has that capability to negotiate a tower lease?” she asked.
Zenk said it has been the board of supervisors in the past.
“You guys are the ones that signed off on the last two,” he said.
“I would think Roger (County Attorney Roger Sailer) would be a big part of that,” Jeri Vogt said.
“In prior years, on other tower leases, (Denison attorney) Rick Franck has represented the county because he is pretty good with real estate and he’s pretty good with leases,” Zenk said. “And we do run them by Roger in the end.”
He said some leases have taken a year and a half to complete but hopes the Charter Oak lease doesn’t take that long.
Schultz suggested it would not be that long since the lease involves him.
Zenk said he hopes the Charter Oak tower will be built next summer.
“I’ll be honest, my fear is that Duane (Zenk) would be negotiating for the Charter Oak Fire Association as well as the county, because I think he’s probably the only one that’s ever done it in the past,” Staley said. “He is kind of the local guru.”
Blum said Zenk has lots of experience.
“I understand here he is kind of on two sides of the fence and there will clearly be somebody clearly on the other side of the fence,” Blum said. “Duane is going to be a part of it… either for one entity or the other.”
He said that dealing with a private landowner will be faster than dealing with a corporation.
“In Kyle’s defense, I think Kyle has been very open and transparent,” Blum said, “and for him to throw out hard numbers until we really get to that stage is kind of putting everybody in an awkward position.”
Staley said no one was asking for the project to be stopped.
“But I still do have serious questions about how the Ridge Road tower was paid for and I think you need to take a serious look at that before you go to Charter Oak and do the same thing,” she said.
Blum said there were two issues.
“Issue number one is the disposition and clarification on ownership and whatnot of the fire tower on Ridge Road and… the other issue is the Charter Oak tower,” he said. “They’re similar but they’re not related. I think we can work on both of them at the same time.”
Staley said she would be willing to sit down with any of the board members to go over the information she has collected.
“You have to have the facts before you proceed,” she said.
At the November 5 supervisors meeting, Blum pushed for the county to establish ownership of the Ridge Road tower.
He said CCFFA should be reimbursed for money the organization has put into it.
The supervisors agreed at that meeting to invite two representatives of the CCFFA to the December 17 supervisors meeting to discuss the subject of tower ownership.
Crawford County Auditor Terri Martens told the Bulletin and Review that she would work to determine the total amount of public funds expended on the Ridge Road tower project prior to December 17.