FAIRFIELD — Jefferson County Supervisor Dee Sandquist informed the other members of the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Monday, Jan. 13, that Muscatine County will not join the Southeast Iowa Link, the region’s mental health board.
Sandquist said Muscatine County left its mental health region, which included a few other counties in eastern Iowa, because it was not satisfied with how the region was managed. It requested to join SEIL, an eight-county region consisting of Jefferson, Washington, Henry, Keokuk, Louisa, Des Moines, Lee and Van Buren counties. Sandquist said Muscatine County asked to join SEIL because it is a well-managed region. State law allows counties to join mental health regions if they border an existing member of that region, and in this case, Muscatine County borders Louisa County, making Muscatine County eligible to join.
Sandquist said SEIL’s finance committee reviewed Muscatine County’s application and decided there were too many financial complications involved in adding Muscatine County to the region. Apart from that, Sandquist said all the counties in the region would need to approve another 28E agreement, which they just did. Sandquist said that one of her personal worries is that if Muscatine County were added, it would mean that about 40 percent of the region’s population would live in either Muscatine or Des Moines counties. Furthermore, she said that Muscatine County has different mental health care providers than the other counties, so it is not a good fit.
In other news, Sandquist also reported on recent developments regarding Iowa Workforce Development. The federal government performed an audit on Iowa Workforce Development in 2016 and found that it was spending too much money on overhead. Specifically, the federal government told the state it would have to consolidate its Iowa Workforce Development regions that handle Title I funds for displaced workers, such as those who lose their job because of a plant closure, for instance. The order does not apply to IWD’s other programs.
Under the current setup, Iowa Workforce Development regions are the same as those used by the state’s 15 community colleges, meaning there are 15 IWD regions. The federal government has suggested eliminating those and moving to only four regions of approximately 25 counties each. Sandquist said it’s not clear what will happen next, but she hopes to learn more when she attends the county supervisor winter conference in Des Moines on Jan. 30.
Supervisors Lee Dimmitt and Daryn Hamilton reported on their recent 911 services meeting. The 911 services board includes two supervisors, two city councilors and a member of the public. The 911 services board spoke about Fairfield Police Chief’s desire to move the dispatchers from being city employees to their own entity in the long run. The move would allow the police department to hire two more officers.
Hamilton said the law center is moving toward a countywide model of dispatch, where all emergency responders are notified of every emergency in the county. For instance, this means that Packwood Fire Department receives a page about a fire in Lockridge the same time as the Lockridge Fire Department. The supervisors all wondered aloud that this might not be a good system because many first responders would receive calls they don’t need to respond to, or because it would poorly allocate resources by sending multiple agencies to an emergency that only required one agency to respond.
Hamilton and Dimmitt said one reason for the proposed change is that Fairfield Police Chief David Thomas does not want to handle the complaints about the dispatch. A proposal the 911 services board is considering would put the dispatch chief in charge of addressing complaints, and that decisions about complaints could be appealed to the dispatch board, which would be a new organization similar in composition to the current 911 services board in that it would include elected officials and a member or members of the public.
Hamilton remarked that another change on the horizon is the county starting to use a new communications tower being built near the firing range outside town. Once it is completed next summer, the communications tower on the lawn of the courthouse will be removed. Hamilton said the new tower will be able to transmit to all corners of the county, unlike the current tower.