Faith in friends

BY ART CULLEN

Our thanks to Buena Vista County Supervisor Paul Merten, who has tried to explain what is going on behind closed doors with the BV, Calhoun and Sac county boards of supervisors over the lawsuit with the Des Moines Water Works. Merten tries to fulfill his obligation to report to the public on county activities, but the darkness surrounding the discussions necessarily hampers his efforts to provide clarity.

What he is able to tell us is this: Someone in Calhoun County has a wonderful relationship with the Iowa Farm Bureau, and that some sort of deal for Farm Bureau and other ag groups to cover the counties’ legal defense costs will happen. It will be transparent. It will be sufficient so that no BV County taxpayer suffers, officials contend.

And this deal will be complete by the time of the federal bench trial this June, or immediately thereafter.

The counties have exhausted all funds to pay their Des Moines lawyers at Belin McCormick, which has not submitted bills since July. Yet the lawyers work, knowing full well that their full tab will be covered by someone — the taxpayers of Buena Vista County, if need be. They have no reason to worry.

We have reason to worry.

We do not know for a fact that the counties’ legal expenses will be covered. Farm Bureau has offered to do so, but the counties wisely begged off over the Farm Bureau proviso that the counties could not defer liability over the water works’ claim to farmers. The county’s lawyers could not recommend that deal in good conscience. They didn’t talk much more about it since last October. We published a story a couple weeks ago stating, essentially, that the counties are naked. All the sudden friendships are rekindled from Calhoun County.

That’s encouraging. But it would be good for the taxpayers to know heading into a federal trial how much their exposure might be. Farm Bureau is a fine organization good on a handshake. But if a federal judge rules against the counties and the ag groups have nothing to show, will they still want to pay our bills?

That’s why we need a written funding agreement now, and it should be disclosed to the public.

Without that agreement, the counties will have to call on local resources to argue their case. Either the drainage districts will pay, or the general tax base will. You cannot bank on a Farm Bureau promise that the check will be in the mail by next August.

You also cannot assume that the legislature will successfully destroy the water works. Even if that happens, BV County could be looking at $300,000 in past-due bills dating back six months.

And, you cannot assume that the federal judge will throw out the case before trial because of a favorable ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court.

You must assume that this case is heading for trial. You must prepare for that. If you have no sugar daddy, then you must make do with local resources.

In that event, you must at least consider talking with the water works about a settlement that protects agriculture and the Buena Vista County economy. Those talks are going on. It’s just that the counties have been cut out of the conversation for the time being. So we know what Farm Bureau and the boys think of the counties’ opinions, even those good friends over in Calhoun.

All babies wanted

Steve King’s comments about how we need to have more babies elicited some research from our old friend Craig Tordsen of Sioux City, retired from Iowa State University Extension. In 2013 Tordsen mapped trendlines of the 67 rural Iowa counties that consistently have lost population every decade since the 1920s. If the current trends continue, Pocahontas County will have zero population by about 2050. It would be the first depopulated county. Nine others would fall in short order. The remaining of the 67 rural counties would be depopulated within 200 years.

Buena Vista County is among about 20 that will survive and/or grow over the next century. All its adjoining neighbors show negative population trendlines.

Trendlines are not destiny. But they warn us that we are rapidly losing each other. In 1850, Iowa had 11 congressional districts. Today we have four.

And that’s why rural voters are desperate. Given the demographics, some of what King says makes sense: Ida County otherwise is not long for this world.

High-quality jobs, great schools, local banks and clean water build communities, whether in Pocahontas or Cherokee. There are people in dying rural communities trying their mightiest — again, Pocahontas is a great example — to innovate and keep young people home and make things interesting and vital. But we need a lot more of it. Babies, too. No matter the color. We need babies for sure. But we need jobs, we need critical infrastructure, we need sustainable ag systems, we need more renewable energy. Those things save communities for babies. All babies. Latino babies are good. Anglo babies are good. We want all those babies. And we need people to move in, from all over the world to bring us new ideas and new business opportunities and a capacity for hard work and self-sacrifice. So yes, Rep. King, Storm Lake offers an example of how to revitalize rural America. A big part of it is immigrants of child-bearing age. We thank him for reminding us.