UPDATE: In response to comments from Mitchell County Supervisor Stan Walk, included in the story below, former state lawmaker Josh Byrnes issued the following statement:
In recent comments made by Supervisor Walk it is evident he has blurred the line of my role as his constituent with my full- time employment at the utility. As a constituent of Supervisor Walk I do have concerns over the use of TIF in Mitchell County and have asked questions about the Port Authority and gas pipeline.
A constituent of any elected official should be able to ask questions and seek answers without being threatened for doing so. Just as Supervisor Walk is passionate about Mitchell County, so are many other residents. Residents are simply asking for transparency and questions to be answered surrounding these projects.
As a legislator, I served on the Ways and Means Committee and know that TIF reform is on the radar of many legislators. TIF is a great economic development tool and I would hate to see that tool disappear due to questionable uses. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. The state of Iowa does a TIF backfill payment to school districts in the amount of $59.5 million dollars. Mitchell County schools are towards the top of that backfill list due to our heavy use of TIF. If the state were to remove that backfill, each property owner in Mitchell County would see their school levy rate increase significantly.
As a constituent of Supervisor Walk I have shared with him and the other two Supervisors the need for connectivity in certain regions of Mitchell County. The communities of Orchard and Mitchell as well as the Bailey and Mona Exchanges have connectivity needs. As a resident who is passionate about growing the county, I have asked the Supervisors to look at ways we could connect those residents and be the first county in Iowa to be 100% connected. If we want to recruit younger people to our county, connectivity is a must for that generation. With unemployment at 1.9% in Mitchell County we need to find ways to recruit younger families to our area and connectivity, along with housing, is one piece to that puzzle.
Unfortunately, Supervisor Walk has confused my profession with me being his constituent. Supervisor Walk was given information about Board meeting times at my place of work and is always welcome to attend. Supervisor Walk has never been told he is not welcome. Last summer my place of work constructed a 23-mile fiber trunk line for $311,371.85 from Lyle to Osage. The project was paid for with reserves and not once did the Board of Supervisors get asked to use TIF on that project.
The fiber trunk line brought into Osage last summer sets the stage for the community of Osage to have ample bandwidth and provide the necessary connectivity sought after by business/industry and the younger generation. The fiber build has also allowed the utility more options for cable television and faster speeds to customer’s homes. Connectivity has become a major economic development tool and our local utility has ensured the that the community is properly positioned.
KIMT NEWS 3- Last week, KIMT received an email that was circulating to Mitchell County residents addressed from Mitchell County Supervisor Stan Walk to former Iowa State Rep. Josh Brynes. It explained that Brynes and others involved need to back off of “his projects” and then threatened Brynes.
On Tuesday, we went to the Mitchell County Board of Supervisors meeting to ask Walk about the email when we learned there is much more to this story as residents questioned the supervisors about the Port Authority’s plan to build a pipeline across Worth County and into Mitchell County.
“I feel like there is more that hasn’t been said,” said Russ Brandau of Osage.
Even getting a hold of the minutes for the group isn’t easy. Supervisor Walk is the one who records the minutes, which are public record, and told KIMT’s Brian Tabick on Tuesday that he will give him the documents the next time he is in Osage.
As for the email sent to Representative Brynes, Supervisor Walk gave this statement:
“Over the past few weeks, Josh Byrnes has demanded of me that I support
dropping out of the Port Authority, which is fine, but then he wants me to
support his fiber project that has seem to be grounded. More than once Josh
has demanded we support his fiber debaucho.
When I questioned what it cost OMU to run this fiber from Lyle to Osage, and
if the new fibaer is now is showing a profit, I am ignored. When I mentioned
coming to a public OMU board meeting, Josh informed me if I showed up, I
would have serious problems. Josh has explained I am not welcomed at OMU
board meetings. And when I asked Josh when the OMU board meets, he
informed me to look it up in the local newspaper. Later, he did provide me
some historical times, nothing definite.
In the past, Josh has also explained to me he did not approve of some of the
ways the county used TIF. I explained how we were using TIF was totally legal
and Josh explained he did not care if it was legal, he did not like it and using it in
some of our ways was going to cause me problems.
Hope Josh hasn't failed to mention these things as he works to garner county TIF
monies for OMU while he also explains I threatened him because I explained
there is nothing he can do to hurt me, I am 70 years old. I don't give a (explicit) about his threats but as you can see, I am not afraid to expose his past
questionable history, the gloves have come off.”
We then started getting pieces of information from various members of the community and ended up with hundreds of documents from various Port Authority minutes Tax Increment Financing (TIF) data, to GIS information.
That is how we learned Worth County Board of Supervisor Merlin Bartz, who is also on the Port Authority President, purchased 40 acres of land just south of the Manly Terminal for $450,000. That’s around $3,000 above the average acre of land, according to the state.
At the terminal is New Heavan Chemical. A company that uses methanol gas and currently gets it through rail. But according to some of the Port Authority minutes we did receive, Bartz’s land could be used for development projects in the future.
Bartz’s did decline to comment on the project but gave us this statement:
“This is a personality clash between two of my friends, Supervisor Stan Walk, and former Representative Josh Byrnes. I served with and worked alongside Josh in the Legislature. He served honorably. I currently serve in various capacities as a County Supervisor with Stan. He is passionate about what he believes in. Hopefully they can get this resolved.”
Bartz’s did obstain from voting in the matter of his land being used for the future project. But if you look at documents at the Worth County Assessor’s Office, Bartz also owns several other pieces of land along the pipeline as well as Dennis Bartz. Dennis owns the land where Supervisor Bartz voted to extend the Urban Renewal area for the pipeline.
When asked about his relation to Dennis, Bartz said he is a distant relative who is several times removed.
As more information continues to come out about where the Port Authority is when it comes to the project, those in the community are asking for change.
“Honesty, fairness and truth,” said Brandau. “If someone is breaking the law we should address that too.”
Walk said there is a TIF meeting on Wednesday next week at the Mitchell county Conservation Center starting at 6 p.m.