L.O.S.T. – It’s not a tax increase but it may prevent one

Some individuals have the idea that if the Local Option Sales Tax (L.O.S.T.) question is approved it will increase their taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, LOST could benefit local taxpayers by holding off increases in fees and tax rates, at least in regards to paying for the mandated sewer replacement project and the City’s pavement management program.

L.O.S.T. is a special-purpose tax implemented and levied at the city or county level and always attached onto a state’s base sales tax rate, most commonly at a rate of one percent (1%). The tax is not just a tax on the buying habits of local residents but rather a tax on the buying habits of anyone who purchases a product or service within Muscatine County. The local option tax collected within a county is placed in a special distribution fund which is dispersed on the basis of population and property tax levies.

The special-purpose tax can only be implemented upon approval by voters in the city or county and the referendum must state exactly what the money will be used for. Once stated, and approved, the money cannot be used for any other purpose unless another special election is held to change the distribution of the revenue received.

The City of Muscatine is asking voters to approve extending the local option sales tax for a 15-year period starting July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2034. Specifically, the ballot question states that not less than 80 percent of the proceeds will be used for sanitary and storm sewer projects with the rest used to fund the Pavement Management Program.

L.O.S.T. has been a part of the local economy since July 1, 1994, after Muscatine voters approved the first ballot question in May of 1994. All proceeds collected during the five-year period were entirely used to fund sanitary and storm sewer projects.

The same ballot question was approved for another five-year period in August 1998. However, in January 2003 voters were asked to redefine the distribution of L.O.S.T. funds with up to 10 percent of the revenue assisting in the financing of the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects.

Eight projects were included in the $10.67 million Pearl of the Mississippi Project including the Weed Park Aquatic Center, American Heritage Trail Extension, Musser Park Skatepark, community art, marina improvements, boat launch relocation, Riverview Center renovation, and the Environmental Learning Center at Discovery Park.

From FY 2002/2003 through FY 2008/2009, L.O.S.T. contributed $1.5 million to the overall project fund.

To continue funding the sanitary and storm sewer projects, and the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects, voters approved another five-year extension in January 2004. With the contribution to the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects ending in the first half of 2009, the City of Muscatine opted to continue splitting the L.O.S.T. proceeds when the question came up again in August 2008.

The aging city infrastructure had been a matter of debate for many years and the City of Muscatine saw an opportunity to fund repairs to the city streets, sidewalks, and alleys through L.O.S.T. When voters were asked in August 2008 to extend L.O.S.T. for a 10-year period, they were also asked to approve not less than 80 percent of the revenue going towards sanitary and storm sewer projects and no more than 20 percent for pavement management projects. Eighty-one percent of the voters who went to the polls supported the measure.

Approximately $533,000 of each year’s L.O.S.T. revenue has been transferred to the Pavement Management Program with $4.25 million of street improvement projects completed during the first eight years of the program. These funds were also used to supplement Road Use Tax funds that are used to support the annual Asphalt Overlay and full-depth concrete patching. L.O.S.T. revenue also supplemented funds for the Colorado and Cedar streets reconstruction projects as well as the Diana Queen Drive Extension project. The reconstruction of Cleveland Street from Park Avenue to 2nd Avenue is the latest example of the use of local option sales tax revenue to improve the infrastructure of the city.

Of course the main reason for L.O.S.T. is funding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated sewer separation which requires the City to complete specific major projects by 2028. The West Hill Sewer Separation Project is the final project included in the EPA Consent Order. The City reached the half way point of the six phases late in 2017 which marked 34 percent completion of the sewer separation.

Phase IV of the project begins this spring and continues for the next three years and completes another 17 percent of the overall project with Phase V scheduled for 2020 through 2022 completing another 13 percent. The largest and most expensive of the phases begins in 2022 with Phase VI which will complete the final 36 percent of the sewer separation project.

A total of $54.4 million has been raised in the 23 year history of the local option sales tax with $49.7 million spent on the various sewer separation projects since 1994. It is estimated that $40.1 million will be needed to fund the remaining three phases.

L.O.S.T. is a significant factor in the City being able to keep sewer fees and the city tax rate from being affected by the mandated EPA Consent Order. The extension of the local option sales tax means that Muscatine will be able to complete the sewer separation project within the parameters set by the federal government without the use of additional taxpayer dollars.

Visit the City of Muscatine Local Option Sales Tax information page HERE.

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

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Rescue training pays benefits with quick, efficient effort by emergency personnel

When the tones break the stillness inside Muscatine Fire Department station, all normal activity ceases. They listen, recognizing what each one means, and then spring into action as the dispatcher begins his or her announcement.

 

Even though they may know the type of incident and the location, there is still the unanswerable question of what the responders will find upon arrival. And that is where training comes in.

 

“We train every day for as many different scenarios as we can think of,” Fire Chief Jerry Ewers said. “That training allows us to respond quicker, and better protect the safety of our firefighters and those we are assisting.”

 

Fire Captain Harold Bennitt’s Green Shift had already responded to several calls on Monday, Feb. 5, but when the tones sounded at 4:26 p.m. that day were different. It was not a fire call, an accident, or a medical problem … someone was in the Mississippi River.

 

“I was not the incident commander on this call,” Bennitt said. “Battalion Chief Brian Abbott was, so I was in the back seat with another firefighter.”

 

As the truck rolled out of the station with the paramedic units, a thousand thoughts and questions flash though the mind. Among them were if the incident was witnessed or was this just someone who thought they saw something in the river. Chief Abbott radioed enroute to the old boat launch area inside Riverside Park to confirm the call.

 

“Yes,” the voice on the other end of the radio said. “We had two 911 calls on it.”

 

Bennitt knew that he and the firefighter next to him (Jonathan Wieland) were going to be the first in the water so they began to put on their cold water suits.

 

“Basically we knew that we were going to be the first in the water so we were thinking of what we needed to do,” Bennitt said. “When it was confirmed, reality really sank it.”

 

Called Mustang Suits (perhaps due to their yellow color), the cold water suits keep responders warm and dry should they need to get into the river or go out on the ice. An upgrade to the current suits was approved by the Muscatine City Council last November which will provide greater protection and a greater number of suits available for water and ice rescues.

 

Bennitt was assigned by Chief Abbott to be the spotter during the rescue.

 

“If we see anything, you are going to have to follow and make sure you watch and see what’s going on,” Abbott told Bennitt.

 

When rescue personnel arrive at the scene, Bennitt takes off the cold water suit, puts on his regular gear, grabs binoculars and a thermal imager that rescuers can use to see the difference in color and heat, and headed for the shoreline.

 

“You don’t think there is a lot of stress but truly there is a lot of stress,” Bennitt said. “I really cannot describe what is running through your mind. Where are they in the river, how far out, can we get to them, is the victim alive, are they moving, how cold is the water, what is the temperature and wind like, did they hit ice, are they on the ice … just a million things going through your mind.”

 

Although it does not relieve the stress, training helps the mind to focus on specific assignments. For Bennitt that was locating and tracking the victim while others began the rescue effort.

 

“Luckily, we spotted the victim in the river right away,” Bennitt said. “So I fixated on the victim and that is all I did.”

 

The rest of what was going on was also on his mind but he was able to separate himself from that and remain focused on his assigned task.

 

“Of course we all want to do things but I knew that I had to stay with the patient,” Bennitt said. “At that point I just relinquished everything and followed her past Contrary Brewing on the riverfront. I walked along the riverbank following her, keeping an eye on her so the others could get to her.”

 

The Muscatine Fire Department had been training for water rescues the two weeks prior to the incident and had another water rescue training session scheduled that day. That training proved valuable to everyone involved whether tracking the victim, breaking the ice to launch the boat, being in the boat for the rescue, or clearing snow off the ramp to allow the stretcher to be brought down to the shoreline.

 

While walking the shoreline downstream of the staging area, Bennitt admitted that while remaining fixed on the victim he was still wondering what was going on at the ramp and where the boat was.

 

“Your mind is so focused on the task that you lose track of time,” Bennitt said. “Everything happens way quicker than what your mind tells you it is. What seems like 15 minutes is just three or four.”

 

When the Chief told Bennitt that the victim was out of the water in just over a half hour from the time of arrival at the scene Bennitt thought that he was kidding.

 

“I really thought it had taken longer than that,” Bennitt said, “but you really do lose track of time because you are so focused.”

 

Training … Training … Training

 

Firefighters benefitted from two weeks of training at night in the harbor as each shift took a turn doing everything necessary for a water rescue. Each scenario was accompanied by each firefighter working different assignments.

 

“Learning each task creates a better team environment because you know you can trust the person next to you and you are confident in any task assigned to you during an actual rescue,” Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman said.

 

That training contributed to a highly efficient and timely rescue despite problems such as excessive ice build-up at the boat launch site.

 

“This was still one of the smoothest winter water rescues that I have seen,” Hartman said.

 

Bennitt noted that the training really helps when you get into uncommon situations like a winter water rescue.

 

“Training like we had in the last couple of weeks really helps,” Bennitt said. “Training gives you muscle memory so you know what to expect if you had to get into the water. We do train to get into the water.”

 

Although trained to get into the water, the victim was so far out during the Feb. 5 rescue that there was no way rescue personnel could get into the water to do anything.

 

“That is a real helpless feeling,” Bennitt said. “The helpless feeling is that you cannot do anything until we get our resources there. You can see and you want to do but you can’t. That’s really the bad part.”

 

Despite that feeling, the training kept Bennitt focused on his task.

 

“Luckily I was able to keep an eye on her and guided the boat right to her,” Bennitt said. “The personnel in the boat could not see her so I had to guide them toward her. The search and rescue guys, our guys, the sheriff’s dive team were to her in less five minutes and back on shore in less than another two or three minutes.”

 

Water rescues are not the only type of training the fire department does on a daily basis. Firefighters also train on other types of rescues which they could, or have, encounter including auto extrication, confined space, high-angle, trench, and rescues inside of burning structures. This includes the tactical emergency medical services teams (three member teams that respond with the Muscatine Police Department’s Special Response Team (SRT) during high risk situations. Training also involves attacking and containing fires, and fire prevention.

 

If a need is found through research or reality, a training program is developed and implemented.

 

A New Boat?

 

Everyone involved with the rescue last week met in the Public Safety Building to review every step of the rescue process from the initial tone to the transport of the victim to the hospital. One of the needs being addressed for winter water rescues is the need for a Zodiac type of boat that can be pushed out over ice before dropping the motor in open water.

 

The Muscatine Search and Rescue Unit, an all-volunteer organization, has a flat-bottom boat that was utilized in the most recent water rescue. The Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department also has a v-bottom boat that is kept in the harbor when the harbor is open.

 

The Muscatine Fire Department is currently collecting data on different types of boats that could be utilized in all weather conditions.

 

So What Is Next

 

It has been four years since rescue personnel have been involved in a winter water rescue of this nature and the hope is that it will be a long time before they will have to do it again.

 

“But if we are called, we will be ready,” Hartman said.

 

Hartman also said that the review of the rescue went well with representatives from all the agencies involved. The review focused on how to improve with several suggestions being followed up on.

 

“Most notably, in my view, is the development of a county wide response plan where, regardless of jurisdiction, we all know who is responsible for what,” Hartman said.
An example of this coordination is that the divers are coordinated under the sheriff, surface rescue with the Search and Rescue group along with the fire department, and site security handed by local police with assistance from the sheriff.

 

More discussions will be held to further develop and enhance the plan.

-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager

PHOTO GALLERY