Sen. Grassley addresses limited audience during 99-county tour

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On Tuesday, May 26, due to social distancing recommendations, Senator Chuck Grassley addressed only a limited number of Guttenberg constituents in the Municipal Building council chambers. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

United States Senator Chuck Grassley is making his way across the state on his annual 99-county tour of Iowa. He arrived in Guttenberg on Tuesday, May 26, and addressed a small group of community leaders in the Guttenberg Municipal Building council chambers. Attendance at all 99 stops will be modified in compliance with social distancing recommendations from Governor Kim Reynolds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In attendance were Mayor Bill Frommelt; City Manager Denise Schneider; Guttenberg Municipal Hospital & Clinics (GMHC) CEO Tim Ahlers; M.J. Smith, Director of Affiliate Foundations, Community Foundation for Greater Dubuque; Austin Coon, Market President, Fidelity Bank & Trust, Guttenberg and president of Guttenberg Economic and Industrial Development Commission (GEIDC); Police Chief George Morteo and Jennifer Heins, Senator Grassley's Director of Scheduling.  

Senator Grassley entered the council chambers and commented, "Normally I meet with more than 50 people. This is a very different way of meeting with my constituents."

Mayor Bill Frommelt

Mayor Bill Frommelt introduced meeting attendees and gave a brief overview of Guttenberg's current economic situation. Frommelt began, "Guttenberg historically has been a self-contained, self-sustained community, but has also recently evolved into more of a tourist destination. That in itself has created issues. We have less permanent residents, which creates a strain on our budget providing services for those who live here year-round. We are trying to promote tourism to help support our local business. We are working on securing funding for our Schiller Street project that will entice travelers into our community, and direct them to our business district to help support our local economy. We have some grant money but more is needed." 

Mayor Frommelt listed the new municipal swimming pool and the Freedom Rock project as new additions to the community. "We are trying to restore youth fishing, but we need money to dredge the ponds. The Corps of Engineers sets the rules for the project, but they will not help pay for the project. We are working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IA DNR) to stock the ponds with fish, but we need to create a healthy habitat so the fish will survive during the winter months. All that requires dredging which is costly." He went on to say, "The Corps is going to dredge 640,000 cubic feet of sand from the river. We would like to use that sand to create a beachfront near Bussey Lake to further promote tourism. We are waiting for answers from the Corps, but have not received a response. We can use all the help we can get to complete these projects," said Frommelt.

Tim Ahlers GMHC CEO 

Ahlers used the opportunity to tell Senator Grassley, "Our rural hospital is a vital component to the health and safety of area residents and a big part of our local economy. We were holding our own by a small margin before the pandemic hit, but since that time we are beginning to see some financial setbacks." 

GMHC has qualified to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was established by the CARES Act. The Small Business Administration implements the program, with support from the Department of the Treasury. The program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits. "We have secured the Payroll Protection Program and that will help get us back in the black. We are slowly and carefully starting to do some elective medical procedures. We are seeing a growing number of telehealth visits for apprehensive patients that would rather be safe at home. Right now we are receiving full reimbursements for those telehealth appointments.  I am concerned that those reimbursements might not continue."  

Senator Grassley and Ahlers continued their discussion concerning rural health facilities and the ongoing financial challenges they must consider. Senator Grassley encouraged Ahlers to look forward to additional legislative changes in late November. 

M.J. Smith Director of Affiliate Foundations, Community Foundation for Greater Dubuque

Smith commended Senator Grassley, "In the time of this pandemic, individuals in the counties I serve have been very generous. These are retired community members that are not currently struggling financially on a day-to-day basis. They have stepped forward, and are engaged in meeting program needs that are assisting those who are undergoing hardships. The policies that you guide are very important to Iowans. In Clayton County there are 80 permanent endowments that assist programs that help our community. This is a big, big win for our area. Please continue to do your best to keep the incentives in place that make these endowment possible," said Smith

Austin Coon Market President - Fidelity Bank & Trust GEIDC President

Austin Coon addressed financial difficulties experienced by local business owners and area farmers. Coon commented, "Local business owners are not only struggling to meet their payroll, they are also struggling to pay their rent and utility bills." 

Senator Grassley assured, "We are going to pass a bill to address that problem so the money can be used for other things. We are also looking into extending the program past eight weeks for a much longer period of time."  

Coon replied, "We are Iowans, so we don't complain, but we need some assurance. I know you presented a bill, and farmers were encouraged by that.” 

Senator Grassley explained, “There will be money available to assist soybean and grain farmers, through the CARES Act. Dairy is included in that also. Some money will be used for government food programs and the remaining amount for various things. Corn growers will get more than soybeans farmers because of the price drops. If we have a second CARES Act there may be some money for farmers that have had to de-populate birds and pigs because of low prices due to the pandemic. We do not know what that is yet.” 

Denise Schneider City Manager

Schneider re-addressed the city’s frustration with the Army Corps of Engineers. Schneider commented, “We would like some answers. We have an aging flood control and levee system. It would be nice to have some money for maintaining our flood system to keep our community safe. We have been going back and forth with FEMA and the Corps trying to secure funding. FEMA will give us some money to repair the railings and sidewalk, but they want the rest of the repairs to come out of our general fund. We do not have that kind of money in our general fund.” 

Senator Grassley questioned, “Does federal law prevent the Corps from assisting the community financially?” 

Schneider replied, “No, they said they don’t have the money to do it. I would just like some answers.” 

Senator Grassley commented. “I can help you out if they are pulling you around. My office can turn up the heat, and demand they give you an answer. It may not be the answer you want, but you deserve an answer.” 

Schneider voiced additional concerns. “I am concerned about people not being able to pay their property taxes because they can’t pay their bills,” she said. 

Senator Grassley asked, “Have you seen anything from the State?” She replied, “Lots of surveys, but not how they are going to help us.”

George Morteo Chief of Police

Morteo thanked Senator Grassley for all he has done for Iowa, and did not have any questions or comments. Grassley noted, “We are working on updating the 1976 law concerning survivors benefits for emergency personnel that lose their life on the job. If you contract the coronavirus while on duty and die within 45 days, your family will still get its stipend. It hasn’t passed the House yet, but I expect it to.” 

Senator Grassley concluded, “We are moving ahead cautiously. We are going to re-evaluate the economy in two or three weeks, and see how things look. We have already borrowed 3 trillion dollars. We better be careful about how we approach that in the future.”

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