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State board poised to award millions for Mason City downtown project

DES MOINES | It’s up to the voters in Mason City now.

City manager Brent Trout, on his final day on the job, had a painless meeting Friday morning with the state economic development board that is poised to award Mason City at least $7 million in tax assistance toward the downtown renovation project.

Previous meetings between Trout and the board, of which there have been many since the city received preliminary approval for the state assistance, have featured board members peppering Trout with a litany of questions about the project.

But on Friday, with development agreements signed and a referendum pending, Trout’s latest project update to the board was met with little more than congratulations and best wishes.

“You guys have come a long way in a short period of time, and I think that should be noted,” board member Chris Murray said. “It sounds like everything is moving very positively.”

Now that the city has met the board’s wishes, the last hurdle before the board gives final approval to the tax assistance is the city’s Nov. 7 referendum.

Mason City's voters will be asked to approve the city’s plan for up to $14 million in loans for the downtown renovation.

If the referendum is successful, the state board will grant at least $7 million — and possibly up to $10 million — in tax assistance.

“We’ve vetted it, we’ve talked about it as a board. I think we’d note that positive progress has been made, so congratulations on that,” Murray said to Trout. “We look forward to seeing you next month with good news.”

Trout won’t be around next month, regardless of the referendum outcome. Friday was his last as Mason City manager; he starts in the same position Monday in Topeka, Kansas.

“I’ll definitely be paying attention to two different elections: an election in my new community and also an election here in Mason City to see how this vote turns out,” Trout said. “It’s never easy with a ballot vote, when you have a 60 percent threshold. You can feel the enthusiasm that’s there, but you don’t know for sure. It really requires those that really want to see this project need to do their part and get out and vote if we want to see it move forward.”

Mason City is the last of seven projects that the state economic development board included in its reinvestment district program, which provides grants to communities for large-scale economic development projects.

The state started with $100 million in the program. Mason City received preliminary approval for $7 million in tax assistance, but could receive up to the roughly $10 million left unspent by the program.

Other projects have received final approval in Waterloo, Muscatine, Des Moines, Coralville, Grinnell and Sioux City.

“We’ve gotten where we need to get to, and it’s really in the hands of our citizens at this time,” Mason City mayor Eric Bookmeyer said.

If the Nov. 7 referendum passes, the state economic development board could give final approval to the project at its December meeting.


Local
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Remember the babies: Clear Lake woman tattoos footprints for SIDS

CLEAR LAKE | A Clear Lake business owner is tattooing baby footprints for those who have lost babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and donating the proceeds through October.

Studio 65 Owner Merry Weiss had a baby boy, Kinzer, three months ago.

“That kind of falls right in that age range where things like SIDS happen,” Weiss said. “As a mom, that’s your worst nightmare. It’s hard when you’re a new mom.”

Weiss was able to buy the Owlet Smart Sock baby monitor for her son so she can feel more at ease.

“With the job I do, I’ve talked to and done memorials for people who have lost their children to SIDS, or other things,” Weiss said.

Weiss opened Studio 65, a tattoo and photography studio in Clear Lake, about a year and a half ago.

“I feel so blessed to be able to use my artistic talents to get others through difficult times in life,” Weiss said.

Weiss hears many stories while tattooing. She came across the story Mark and Elisha Palmer who founded Knox Blocks Foundation on the Owlet page when she purchased the monitor.

“When I came across her story, I felt horrible for her,” she said. “What she did instead of stopping her life in that tragic time, her and her family decided to use it to help other people. I’m all about stuff like that.”

The Palmers lost their son, Knox, to SIDS in December 2016. He was 3½ months old when he went to sleep and never woke up.

The Knox Blocks Foundation raises money to provide Owlet Smart Socks to families in need. The Owlet monitors track the baby's heart rate and oxygen levels, alerting the parents if the levels fall out of a predetermined range. The monitors can potentially save a baby from SIDS.

“Often, there are so many families in need they can’t keep up,” Weiss said. “I don’t have time to create my own foundation.”  

Weiss reached out to Elisha Palmer to see if there was anything she could do rather than just donate.

“I don’t want to make just one donation; I want to raise awareness and educate people,” Weiss said.

Weiss settled on footprint tattoos. She is donating 100 percent all proceeds from footprint tattoos to the Knox Blocks Foundation through October, SIDS Awareness Month. Owlet agreed to double the funds Weiss raises through the month. 

“I want to show these moms that we remember their babies,” Weiss said.

As of Tuesday, Weiss raised just shy of $1,400 and has done about 10 tattoos related to SIDS. One was of a dog footprint since the woman did not have any children.

“It’s so sweet because so many people want to take part,” Weiss said. “I did a memorial the other day and I just threw that into the fund.”

The monitors cost $300 a piece.

“These monitors can save lives,” Weiss said. “These tattoos are helping save lives.”

The baby footprints are the symbol since the monitor goes on the baby’s foot.

“This lady came across my post on Facebook about what I was doing,” Weiss said. “She saw it on the 26th anniversary of the day her baby passed away from SIDS.”

The woman drove over two hours to get her very first tattoo, a baby foot print.

“She said, ‘It was meant to be,’” Weiss said. The woman said that she can now have her baby with her forever, she hasn’t forgotten him.

“That was emotional,” Weiss said. “I’ve seen ladies commenting on my post … you see them connecting and supporting each other. That’s something I didn’t expect.”

One memorial tattoo Weiss did said, “Some dream of angels, I held one in my arms.”

Weiss has found, in talking with family and friends that many people have never heard of SIDS or they didn’t hear about it when they were raising children years ago.

“You have some grandparents that will wrap up the baby in a blanket and have the crib bumpers and they have toys in there when they’re watching the baby, stuff like that,” Weiss said. “It’s just really scary.”

The foundation and Weiss hope that legislation will pass to require insurance companies to cover the baby monitors for at-risk babies.

“You have technology to monitor the health of your car, why wouldn’t you want something to monitor the health of your baby, a person,” Weiss said. 


Crime-and-courts
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Mason City drug investigation nets three arrests, $65K of meth, marijuana (with mugshots)

MASON CITY | A narcotics investigation in Mason City Thursday yielded three arrests and pounds of methamphetamine and marijuana worth thousands, law enforcement says. 

Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s deputies worked with Mason City police, North Central Iowa Narcotics Task Force investigators, the Special Operations Group, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement for the investigation, which the sheriff's office said involved "multiple pounds of suspected methamphetamine and marijuana."

The street value of the drugs is estimated at $40,000 for the meth and $25,000 for the marijuana, Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals said. 

During the investigation, two separate traffic stops were made at Highway 122 and South Pierce Avenue. A search warrant was also executed.

Hart 

The first stop occurred around 9:40 p.m. and led to the arrest of Eric Thomas Hart, 28, of Mason City.

Hart was charged with:

  • Possession with intent to deliver meth over 5 grams.
  • Failure to affix tax stamp.
  • Failure to have a valid driver’s license.
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia.

When law enforcement searched Hart, court documents say two bags of meth — one large and one small — were found. The amount was estimated at 2 ounces. 

A search of his vehicle also turned up a baggie of meth, a small amount of meth in tinfoil, a hypodermic needle and a scale, court documents say. 

Sanders

Dakota Lee Sanders, 30, of San Andreas, California, was arrested during the second traffic stop.

Sanders was charged with:

  • Possession with intent to deliver meth over 5 grams.
  • Possession with intent to deliver marijuana under 50 kilograms.
  • Two counts of failure to affix tax stamp.
  • Failure to have a valid driver’s license.
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia.

Law enforcement said in court documents they found more than 42.5 grams of marijuana and more than 7 grams of meth during a search of Sanders' vehicle, as well as a scale used to measure drugs.

A search warrant was executed at the Days Inn near Highway 122 in Mason City. 

Funk

Christopher Funk, 57, of San Andreas, California, was arrested as a result of the warrant.

Funk was charged with:

  • Possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine over 5 grams.
  • Two counts of failure to affix tax stamp.
  • Possession with intent to deliver marijuana under 50 kilograms.
  • Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Funk was allegedly found to be in possession of more than 7 grams of meth, more than 42.5 grams of marijuana and a Glock pistol.

Funk admitted the gun was his, court documents said. 

All three men were taken to Cerro Gordo County Jail, where they are being held without bond. Court dates have not been scheduled. 

The sheriff's office said more arrests are possible, as the case is ongoing. 


Crime-and-courts
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Eagle Grove teen charged with felony for school threat

EAGLE GROVE | An Eagle Grove teen has been charged with a felony after making a school-related threat Thursday. 

Around 2 p.m. Thursday, an Eagle Grove High School student notified school officials of a threat that appeared on a social media site, the Wright County Sheriff's Office said in a news release. 

Eagle Grove Schools went into lockdown for a brief period of time while the threat was investigated by the sheriff's office and Eagle Grove Police Department. The responsible student was quickly identified, according to law enforcement. 

A 15-year-old was charged with felony intimidation with a dangerous weapon and placed in Juvenile Court custody. 

Juvenile court records in Iowa are confidential unless the charge involves a forcible felony, such as murder, kidnapping or robbery. 

“The quick action of a student proved valuable in identifying the source of this threat,” Wright County Sheriff Jason Schluttenhofer said in a stement. “The working relationships of local law enforcement and the school districts once again reinforces the commitment of making sure students and staff remain safe at all times.”

The sheriff's office says the investigation is ongoing, and no further information is available at this time. 

A number of Iowa school districts — including Algona, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows and Mason City — reported receiving threats earlier this month. Two students were referred to juvenile court in connection with incidents in Algona and Mason City, police said.