In it together

The City of Storm Lake contains over half of Buena Vista County’s population. The county seat generates nearly all the manufacturing activity for Buena Vista, except for Rembrandt Enterprises and Ranco of Sioux Rapids. Its parks provide for most of the outdoor recreation activity during temperate months. All the commercial property in Storm Lake pays a higher tax rate than farms or residences. The city also is home to the greatest amount of non-taxed property in the county by virtue of its large, not-for-profit institutions (hospital, university, schools public and private, churches, government buildings and so on).

Many of the highest-valued homes in the Storm Lake School District lie just outside the city limits to avoid a higher property tax rate. Those homes are financed by jobs and institutions in Storm Lake.

Buena Vista County should take great care to nurture its largest community and help it to grow. It is in the interests of the unincorporated areas of the county.

For starters, the county receives more than $750,000 per year from the local option sales tax generated primarily by Storm Lake businesses. More than half that amount goes to secondary roads in the unincorporated areas. So the more sales Storm Lake generates, the better the county’s roads should be and the less its property taxes are. The city only gets about $1.1 million per year, despite the fact that its merchants are running the cash register.

It is not “us” versus “them.”

Storm Lake is the commercial, recreational, legal and cultural center of Buena Vista County. The stronger Storm Lake becomes, the stronger the county will be.

The city has had a difficult time generating new residential properties because most single-family homes are built just outside town. It makes it exceedingly difficult to plat a development inside the city limits for homes valued over $150,000.

Storm Lake has the highest concentration of immigrants in Iowa. It puts special challenges on the school district that has more flexibility. It puts a tremendous challenge to the city, whose general fund is pretty much strapped for cash. The city general fund property tax rate is at its limit. New revenues come from sales taxes or grants.

The city of about 11,000 people (possibly larger than that, if the Census could count everyone) needs more housing, a richer property tax base and more economic development to help generate sales and thus tax revenues.

Buena Vista County’s primary charge is to provide for the safety and welfare of all the county — including Storm Lake.

Yet despite having such an out-size influence on the county, Storm Lake has two residents on the five-member county board of supervisors: Democrat Don Altena and Republican Rhonda Ringgenberg. It would make sense that if the city comprises 55% of the population and more than 75% of the sales tax revenue that 60% of the Board of Supervisors (three members) should be from Storm Lake proper.

No new candidates for county supervisor from Storm Lake have stepped forward.

That being the case, it would be helpful for everyone if the city and county could somehow arrive at a compact that gives the county seat as much love as it does the declining number of rural residents. It doesn’t even have to be love, just enlightened self-interest.

Storm Lake is fully a part of Buena Vista County. The county should look out for Storm Lake’s interests as it would anyplace else. It would help if the make-up of the board supported that objective. To date, Storm Lake has not mustered a candidate for the open seat held by the retiring Ken Hach, R-Alta. Now is the time.

China needs our corn

We wish that the Obama Administration would allow the Renewable Fuels Standard to expand so more ethanol may be consumed. But the sky will not fall if mandated production is held at its current levels. Ethanol is an important component of corn price structure, but livestock feeding and exports consume far greater amounts of corn than fuel does.

Corn exports are chugging along at a record pace. China is importing more corn than ever before, lately tapping Ukraine as a friendly seller. Still, 90% of China’s corn imports come from the USA. Last month China bought nearly 821,000 tons of corn for import, triple the amount from December 2012, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Senior Chinese officials warn of an impending corn shortage because of more livestock feeding (mainly pork and poultry) and a fast-growing food-processing industry. The government must sate the nation’s growing appetite to maintain stability. The Agriculture Ministry says importing more corn is “an inevitable choice for China.”

So if the ethanol standard is not expanded the sky will not fall. Legions of farmers will not be put out of business. Their corn simply will be shipped to China instead of to an Iowa ethanol plant. China and India will more than make up for the loss of growth opportunity with corn ethanol over time.