Friday, September 9, 2011

L-M School Shows Higher Test Scores

A year ago the Laurens-Marathon school was declared to be "in need of assistance" under the federal No Child Left Behind law. This year the school has fared better.

The Iowa Department of Education released its annual list of schools this week. If schools do not meet an ever-rising set of standards in graduation rates, reading and math scores, and attendance, they can be added to the list. The L-M elementary and middle schools were added last year because they had not made so-called adequate yearly progress in reading scores for two consecutive years.

But this year they did raise those standardized test scores. If L-M scores high enough again next year they will escape the list. A third of Iowa schools are on the list. More get added every year. Ultimately all schools will be on the list because the standards are higher every year. The 2014 standards set by the federal NCLB law are widely considered unattainable. The law has caused considerable anxiety among educators and has boosted the standing of private schools who are not governed by the law.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laurens Farmland Auctioned at $8980/Acre

An eighty acre farm field near Laurens sold today for $8980 per acre. The auction was held at the Amvets Hall in Havelock. About fifty people attended.

The property is bordered on two sides by roadways, leaving 76 acres of crops. Its corn suitability rating (CSR) is 80.2 which is high for Iowa farmland. The bid price is $112 per CSR point. Early this spring land at Rolfe sold for $101 per CSR point. Earlier this month Pocahontas land was auctioned at $106 per CSR point.

The land lies southeast of Laurens. It was owned by the children of Mary Kees and has been farmed by Bill and Christie Mather. It was purchased by Cindy Dubbert who lives nearby.

During the auction the price of corn was near $7 a bushel at the local markets. Soybeans were near $13. Both markets were up from the previous week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pocahontas Farm Auction: $8900/Acre

An eighty acre tract of flat farmland five miles south and four miles east of Pocahontas was auctioned this morning for $8900/acre. It was the Hermon Tjaden property, currently farmed by tenant Bob Beneke. The 2001 cash rent is $15,400, according the auctioneer's statement today.

Bidding was brisk. The auctioneer, Lowderman Auction and Real Estate, said there would be no breaks or timeouts. However he did pause after about five minutes of bidding to acknowledge the property "can be a little wet." Five minutes later the auction was complete.

The land is 80% Webster soil. The tract has a corn suitability rating (CSR) near 84. Pocahontas County's average CSR is only 74. The CSR system assumes drain tile has been added wherever necessary.

Dividing the bid price by the CSR yields a ratio of $106 per CSR point. Earlier this spring a 120 acre Rolfe parcel sold for $101 per CSR point.

One audience member left the auction saying, "I'm going home to put up some For Sale signs."

On auction day the local price for corn was $7.31; for soybeans, $13.75. Both prices are higher than in March when the Rolfe auction occurred.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Use for Rock Island RR Right of Way?

Updated within.

A vague plan to revive the old Rock Island Railroad right of way (perhaps) through Pocahontas County will be considered at several area public meetings this week. One will be held in Pocahontas on Friday.

The new use is for electric transmission lines to carry wind power out of the state. It is called the Rock Island Clean Line. It is one of several proposals being considered by various parties who want to profit from wind turbines.

Update: It became clear at the open house that poetic license has been used in naming the project after the Rock Island. The new power lines will not follow the old railroad lines. In fact towns will avoided as much as possible. As with the original Rock Island, the new lines run southeast from this area. Another similarity is that both the railroad and the electric lines serve a similar purpose--getting rural resources to urban markets. The railroads carried grain and livestock. The electric lines will carry wind power.

The Rock Island Railroad dissolved in bankruptcy in the early 1980s. One of its routes ran from Watertown, S.D, to Des Moines, passing through Laurens, Pocahontas, and Manson. In this area it was mostly converted to farmland. The Laurens hiking trail now occupies the old railroad route on the south side of town.

Another set of tracks ran through Estherville, Emmetsburg, Livermore,and Cedar Rapids.

Thursdays hearing will be at the Pocahontas Expo Center, 8am-10am. It is hosted by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, Texas. This is a chance for us to learn their plans and for them to gauge our hospitality or hostility to the possibility of a new transmission line through the county.

Similar hearings are in Storm Lake, Spencer, Emmetsburg, Cherokee and Paullina beginning Tuesday, May 31. Comments may be submitted on line here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Arrested Leaving Laurens

One cold January night a young man left Laurens with a small amount of marijuana hidden in his car. He drove straight into the hands of the law. On May 24 he was sentenced to six months in the county jail. The sentence was suspended and replaced with probation.

He is 18-year-old Kevin Bergen of Albert City. He was stopped by sheriff deputy Brian Runneberg. According to court papers Runneberg pulled Bergen over as he was turning from N-28 toward Albert City because Runneberg "recognized the vehicle and had knowledge that the plates were expired." Deputy Runneberg also reported Bergen's car "has been parked at a known house in Laurens with drug activity."

Runneberg asked permission to search Bergen's car but Bergen initially declined, according to Runneberg's report of the incident. Later Bergen agreed to a search. Runneberg found no contraband. Nevertheless he impounded the car, telling Bergen "that since the vehicle wasn't registered to him and had no proof of insurance and expired plates that the vehicle was going to be towed." Later a dog found a "small" amount of marijuana in the air vent of the car.

Bergen's driver's license was suspended after his guilty plea to the misdemeanor crime of possession of marijuana. He has been ordered to pay court costs and to accept treatment from Community and Family Resources of Fort Dodge.

Iowa's court system spends about a million dollars a week on marijuana cases. An estimated 20% of young Iowa adults use marijuana every year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Municipal Cable Puts Laurens On Map

Laurens has been put on the map, thanks to its city-wide municipal cable and broadband service. Few communities on the US have such a system to protect themselves from "a looming broadband monopoly." Laurens built its hybrid fiber optic and coaxial cable system in 1998. The map was created and published last month.

In some states it is illegal to create a broadband service that is owned by the public, due to legislation pushed by corporations such as Comcast and AT & T.

Eighteen other Iowa towns are on the map as well, including Spencer, Storm Lake, Algona, Mapleton, Sanborn, Orange City, and Coon Rapids. Only some 78 cities appear along with Laurens. An additional 54 cities on the map have even better public systems which offer the gold standard--fiber optics into the home.

Together these 133 municipalities serve three million people (just one percent of the USA), according to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.

From the report:
. . it appears that the federal government is
unwilling to stand up to powerful corporations to defend the public good. This is where community owned networks come in. The citizens and businesses in each of the towns on our map have a network that will offer access to the open Internet– because they own the network and they make the rules for it.

The report alleges that elsewhere in the US "Comcast owns the internet" because it owns so much of the infrastructure over which traffic must flow.

The report continues:
Wireless providers may increasingly compete with DSL networks, but cable networks will continue to offer higher capacity connections than either.

Laurens Municipal Power & Communications has a website that details its history and rates for services.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tornado Disaster

The Governor has called Pocahontas County a disaster area after tornadoes struck Saturday night. The towns of Ware and Varina were hard hit. County Sheriff Lampe said seven hog confinement buildings were destroyed along with several homes, but no injuries were reported.

More than five inches of rain fell southeast of Laurens. The Larry and Sonja Perkins farmhouse was undamaged but three other buildings were destroyed and the blue Harvestore silo was toppled.

Farm fields throughout the area now host crinkled sheets of aluminum roofing. Numerous dead ducks and other birds appear on roadways.

Photos and videos are available at this writing at these websites:

The Messenger

KCCI-TV Channel 8

WHO-TV Channel 13

Ware photos

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Political Lines Redrawn Around Laurens

Proposed new legislative lines give Laurens two Congressmen, two state representatives and a new state senator. Someone will get forced out! The lines were drawn to reflect the census of 2010. All legislative districts must be the same size.

The new Iowa 10th House District would include Pocahontas, Humboldt, Calhoun and parts of Webster counties. Two Republican members of the current Iowa House--Tom Shaw and David Tjepkes--live in opposite corners of the district.

Our proposed new state senate district will include all the same areas plus most of Webster county. Fort Dodge Democrat Daryl Beall would be our state senator until the next senate election.

Pocahontas county is the virtual heart of the proposed Fourth Congressional District. It reaches from Missouri Valley to Carroll to Ames to New Hampton, including everything to the northwest. Republican incumbents Tom Latham and Steve King both live in this district.

The state legislature must approve or reject this map by the end of April. Current office holders will remain in place until the 2012 elections.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rolfe Land Brings $6775/Acre

Fifty people gathered at the Rolfe Community Center this morning for the auction of 120 acres of farmland a mile north of town. It was last on the market in 1966 when it was purchased by Jim and Esther Wilson. The high bidder today was a local dairyman, Dean Duitscher, who bid $6775/acre. The runner-up bidder was also an area farmer.

The land has no buildings. It is on Hwy 15. It is rolling and has at least one terrace. The corn suitability rating (CSR) is 69.7 on the 115.3 net acres. The gross price divided by the net acres and the CSR produces a value of $101/CSR point. The current tenant has a lease that extends through this summer.

More details about the property were still available on the auctioneer's website immediately after the sale.

Yesterday the local price of corn was $6.82/bushel. Soybeans were selling for $13.47/bushel.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Joelson Calls Community Pow-Wow

The L-M school superintendent wants to talk. He has invited the community to a meeting two weeks from today. The topic for the 6:30 p.m. session will be "What does it mean to be an educated adult in Lauren-Marathon in the 21st century?"

Superintendent Iner Joelson issued the invitation in the school's current "Update" publication, a blue booklet that arrived in area mailboxes last week. He reports that school board members recently read The Global Achievement Gap (available on Kindle even!) and want to re-invent the public school, not just "reform" it. He says "we need your help" because "while [the board] focused on the urgency of change, we had great difficulty . . .in defining a specific area to address."

Joelson also referred his readers to a new website that was "formed to help Iowan's find a common voice to promote the need for innovation in education."

Last year the L-M school was called a "school in need of assistance" by the federal government. The No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB) is slowly bearing down on all public schools. It expects all students to be on grade level by 2014. Schools that don't appear on track to meet that goal will be penalized. However the NCLB law is due for re-authorization this year.

Meanwhile the Iowa House wants to cut state aid to education.

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Rural Atlas Tells Our Tale

A new on-line atlas from the US Dept of Agriculture has just been posted. It tells many figures about Pocahontas County. Here are a few:

--We had a 10.5% poverty rate in 2009.

--We were 38% employed in services; 19% in manufacturing; 13% in agriculture.

--Nearly 10% of us lack a high school diploma(see poverty rate above but don't jump to conclusions); 28% have a college diploma.

--We had 806 farms in 2007, but a quarter of them had less than $10,000 in sales.

--Only 28% of farm operators work off the farm. Only 1% sell food directly for human consumption.

The new website is a map. Roll your cursor over the county of your choice and read all about it. How does Pocahontas compare to where your relatives live? Why don't they move here?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Laurens Shrinks As Fast As County

The Laurens population fell from 1476 in the 2000 census to only 1258 this time, a drop of nearly 15%. That virtually matches the county decline of 15.6%. In the previous decade the city had declined only 5% while the county shed residents nearly twice as fast. The census reports 106 vacant housing units in Laurens, a vacancy rate of 15% Why can't we escape that number of 15%?

Havelock has 138 residents, down from 177 or 22%. Pocahontas fell 9% to 1789.

Marathon has 237 in the current census, down 22% from 2000. Albert City has 699, down only ten residents from the last census. All the 2010 numbers are at this website.

Friday, February 11, 2011

State Grows But County Shrinks

Pocahontas County shrunk by 15.6% in the last ten years. Our population dropped from 8662 to 7310. We are the fastest disappearing county in Iowa. We won that honor once before. Only seven Iowa counties have a smaller population. Meanwhile the state grew by 4%. The map shows the counties coded by rate of change with dark purple dropping by the greatest percentage and dark green increasing the greatest percentage.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Laurens Wins What Gamblers Lost

More than $15,000 in casino winnings were transferred to Laurens today when the Pocahontas County Foundation awarded its 2011 grants. The money went to four projects. An additional $65,000 went to other projects around the county.

The proposed Memory Lane park on South Third Street was granted $10,000. It was the second largest grant given this year, topped only by the $15,000 award to the Palmer fire station.

The Laurens Library will receive $4,000 to replace computers for patron use. The City of Laurens gets $2,000 for its work of digitizing the cemetery records.

Kids Korner Day Care will buy a Wii and two laptop computers with the $1650 it received today. Director Michelle Sandvig predicted the audience would be able to hear squeals of delight from the children when the computers arrive.

The Havelock fire department won $6,000 for new protective gear for firefighters. The Pocahontas Hospital's new wound center received $6,000. Libraries in Rolfe and Plover also received grants for computers. Among other recipients were Pocahontas Congregate Meals, the cities of Fonda, Pocahontas and Rolfe, Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce, the Pocahontas Community Band, and the Fonda Arts Center.

The Foundation grants were preceded by a speech from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey at the Rialto Theater in Pocahontas. The Foundation is a creation of the Pocahontas County Economic Development Commission. It has operated since 2006.

Prettiest Train in Havelock

Two long rows of brand new identical hopper cars sit on the Union Pacific Railroad siding at Havelock. When the Union Pacific took control of the old Chicago and Northwestern rail line in the mid-1990's a similarly good-looking set of hopper cars came down these same tracks for the maiden voyage by the new owners. Nothing that attractive had been seen since. Until now.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Prosperous New Year: Local Governments Have Little Debt

Laurens may be surrounded by a debt crisis--from Wall Street to California, from Athens to Washington, D.C.--but local governments are in excellent shape.

Pocahontas County carries no debt whatsoever.

The city of Laurens owes $2.6 million, about $2200 per resident. All the cities of Iowa average about $1500 in debt per resident of Iowa. (Unfortunately this figure assumes all Iowans live in a municipality.) Emmetsburg and Pocahontas each carry about $1800 per resident.

The Laurens-Marathon school district is paying off a debt of $2500 per student. Sioux Central's debt is similar. Pocahontas Area Community School owes nearly eight times as much per student as Laurens, due to the new construction nearing completion. Their enrollment will also increase if they combine with Palmer-Pomeroy in the near future. A vote will be held this winter.

Iowa Central Community College also appears on our property tax bills. ICCC owes $37 million. Its debt ranks exactly in the middle of Iowa's thirteen community college districts.

So that leaves personal credit card debt and mortgage or car payment debts. How is your new year looking?

The figures in this story are derived from data at the office of the State Treasurer.