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US contests Buena Vista drainage assessmentsSBA holds site of former Albert City grease gun manufacturer

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The U.S. Small Business Administration refused to pay a $28 drainage assessment, raising fears that the federal government will assert immunity on all land it owns in Buena Vista County.

Brian Blomme, the shared drainage engineer for Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties, told the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors the SBA refused to pay an assessment on the former grease gun factory in Albert City, citing immunity from property taxes and special assessments. The SBA cited a provision in Iowa Code that exempts the federal government from state and local taxes and assessments.

Blomme worries other federal agencies that own land in the county, namely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will take a similar position. The Fish and Wildlife service owns several properties in the county. Other federal agencies own more.

“I’m painting a dark picture here, but this is a real possibility that others can follow,” said Blomme, who outlined a previous refusal in Monona County. “I’ve had this situation before in Monona County.”

Blomme said he didn’t know how much money the county’s drainage districts receive from the federal government.

He’s encountered problems with the federal government refusing previous assessments in other counties. In one of Blomme’s previous jobs, the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to pay an assessment on its share of a 600 acre watershed. The Fish and Wildlife Service owned half of the watershed, which essentially sapped the county’s ability to improve the area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service budged. The county threatened to remove their access to county drains.

In this case, the property’s use of county drains is negligible. It’s the site of the former grease gun factory in Albert City, according to Board of Supervisors chairman Kelly Snyder.

Blomme wondered if there was a way to redefine the assessment in such a way that the federal government would be forced to pay. The supervisors couldn’t reach a resolution to that end.

Blomme asked the supervisors to issue a similar communication to the SBA as Monona County did to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The supervisors left open that possibility. Supervisor Paul Merten said he was open to not collecting the SBA’s outstanding $28; but he said their position should eliminate their ability to participate in drainage.

“We shouldn’t have to serve them,” Merten said.

Treasurer Danelle Haberman said she was concerned about “the precedence” of the supervisors letting the federal government off the hook.

“We’re only talking a little right now, but it’s precedence. That’s the issue,” Haberman said.

Haberman noted the county hasn’t had an issue collecting payment from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Iowa or any other government agency in a drainage district.

The supervisors referred the matter for further review by Gary Armstrong, the county drainage attorney.

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