ORANGE CITY—In a split 3-2 vote the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 16, the Sioux County Board of Supervisors approved providing a temporary loan to help complete the nature center building project.

Supervisors John Degen of Hawarden, Arlyn Kleinwolterink of Orange City and Dennis Wright of Hull voted yes; board chairman Mark Sybesma of Hull and member Al Bloemandaal of Sioux Center voted no.

“A lot of people have worked very hard on this for a lot of years,” Degen said. “They’re very respectful people, hard working. I do feel the county is behind this project. What I’ve seen is nothing but praise for this thing. It’s an educational center gentlemen. This isn’t just another building out in the woods. We’ve turned down hundreds of people that want to come to these programs over the last few years just because we don’t have the space available.”

After a 35-minute discussion, the board ultimately approved Degen’s motioned for the board to issue the bonds without an election. 

It was one of three options from which the board could choose to support the Sioux County Conservation Board’s request for a $1.8 million loan the supervisors heard about at its Oct. 2 meeting.

At that same meeting, the supervisors learned that a $3.3 million bid from Nelson Construction of Sioux City had been approved to build the nature center. Conservation board director Rob Klocke said the bid covers construction of the 12,000-square-foot two-level facility, including the offices and storage spaces as well as the parking lot area. It did not cover the cost of the educational displays to be inside the nature center.

The Sioux County Foundation Board, which is working to raise the total $4.8 million funding for the nature center product, is in need of a $1.8 million temporary loan to complete construction. It would be paid back through pledges to the foundation board.

At Tuesday’s meeting foundation board member Gordon Pottebaum said the foundation had raised $3,286,613 in pledges, which includes the $250,000 pledged by the county, $600,000 pledged by the conservation board, $150,000 pledged by the city of Hawarden and $50,000 pledged by the city of Orange City.

“That leaves about $2.4 million in pledges from individuals, which typically have a 90-percent return, so about $2.1 million — I’m just boggled,” Sybesma said, regarding his understanding of that funding gap needed for the project. “It’s hard for me to get my hands around this.”

Pottebaum’s figures, including a $300,000 REC interest-free loan, indicated a total gap of $666,603 that’s needed to be raised by the foundation board to cover total expenses.

The supervisors could have chose to drop the issue, not providing a loan option at all or called for a special election to utilize the county’s debt service levy, which would have about a $15,000 cost to the county and couldn’t happen until March.

Bloemendaal favored an election.

“This is going to incur higher taxes long term,” he said. “I would feel better if there was an election in which people chose to vote for us to do this financing.”

Lee Plasier, Sioux Center resident and owner of P&H Wholesale, asked the supervisors to decline the funding request.

“There are a number of very competent and capable lending institutions in this county who are equipped with capitol and experience in evaluating the capacity of a borrower to repay a loan,” he said. “By coming to the county, it puts the Board of Supervisors in the position of doing something that county boards are not designed to do. It’s not designed to expend loans, not designed to evaluate the adequacy of the capital. The conversation that just went on here illustrates the point.”

Plasier voiced concern regarding the board not being allowed to see individual pledge amounts.

“You have no way of knowing if they’re enforceable and are there enough?” It’s clear from this presentation it’s not,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy to pay my taxes for city government and county government. The law enforcement we gain from that, the administration of justice, the county board of supervisors — created and established to do. To put county resources at risk for this project is not, in my view, what county boards are elected to do.”

Degen responded saying, “this isn’t just a loan for some other organization. This is a county building on county property that’s been needed for some years. It’s for every town in all of Sioux County and all around. This is a huge project for Sioux County and I think it’s been needed for a lot of years.”

By choosing to issue bonds without an election, there’s a 40-day window for a petition to happen. It would take 1,000 signatures of eligible electors in the county to bring the issue to a vote.

As a result, Sioux County attorney Thomas Kunstle said official approval of the loan could take place by Dec. 18.

“I thought the meeting was very well done,” Klocke said afterward. “We knew that not everybody is in favor of the project but overall we’ve had a lot of support in Sioux County for it. We’ve collected pledges from a lot of people. Basically we’re at 95-percent funding right now for the total project.”

Klock said the foundation board and conversation board will meet to talk about the next step for the project.