Federal funding might exist for community problems
United Today, Stronger Tomorrow holds town hall meeting in Marshalltown
Roughly 25 Marshall County residents showed up at the Wednesday evening meeting of United Today, Stronger Tomorrow (UTST), a nonprofit organization working to help communities utilize federal funding, held at the UAW 893 hall. Regional Organizer Dave Bushaw led the meeting and asked attendees what they are most concerned about at the present time.
Bushaw’s organization sent out a survey regarding $6 trillion in federal infrastructure funding pumped into the United States economy during the last 12 months. He said they received 776 responses, and he added that the survey results would be used to prime the discussion.
“These are maybe to get people thinking about what we need here, and if these issues are reflected in the people of Marshall County,” he said.
Bushaw said the top issues addressed by respondents were clean water, transportation issues, clean energy, good internet, ensuring workers get decent wages, creation of jobs for the low-income population, protecting workers’ rights, strengthening local economies and infrastructure projects improving communities. With that, he opened the floor to the attendees to hear about issues Marshall County is facing.
As the problems were brought up, Bushaw kept a list of them written on a large piece of paper on the wall.
The first issue addressed was bad road conditions, followed by poor internet service. Bushaw responded that poor internet is a wide-reaching problem in Iowa. He said there is federal money communities can apply for to help address it.
“We can fight for these things and get them done if we work together,” Bushaw said. “It’s not a little issue. It’s a big issue.”
Marshalltown City Councilor Mike Ladehoff was in attendance and said some of the federal internet funding is designated for counties.
“Cities like Marshalltown — we’re not eligible for that, so that leaves us with having to rely on private companies to put it in, but they’re not going to put it in all over,” Ladehoff said. “The private companies are not interested in coming into the city. They don’t get the financial incentives to do it. If they would treat Iowa as a whole, that would help everyone. It would help Marshalltown economically, and the businesses and everyone who lives here.”
Bushaw said the federal funding bills are too massive for anyone to completely understand, but if people work together, they can figure out how to utilize some of them.
“There are a lot of opportunities for us to think outside the box,” Bushaw said.
Additional problems brought up were the lacking public transit system due to a decreased number of drivers and difficulties for disabled riders. Roads under construction causing detours on the bus routes is another issue for the bus system.
“Public transport is a difficulty for visitors or people with no licenses or cars,” Bushaw said. “We’ve got poor roads (and) poor internet connection. It makes it difficult for people to want to live here and contribute to the local economy, drive new businesses.”
Bushaw asked what downtown looked like. He was told businesses left after the 2018 tornado and the 2020 derecho. The construction on State Street was also said to be impacting the downtown. Ladehoff replied the State Street construction is taking so long because the entire stretch of the road had to be gutted, with sewer and water lines removed.
“Main Street is next,” he said. “State Street will be open before Main Street starts. It could be the fall of 2024 before we get going on Main Street. It could be the spring of 2025.”
However, Ladehoff added that new businesses are moving in, and the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce is devoting a lot of work to attract them. He is confident downtown is on its way back up but said the process will be messy.
“The thing about this funding is, regardless of the constraints of Marshalltown and Marshall County, with this new federal funding, we can go beyond what our current ability is,” Bushaw said. “There’s more opportunity than there was last year, even six months ago. We understand the struggles and we’re here to find out where these resources are to tap to fix these problems. We have an opportunity to do more.”
Also in attendance were Dorie Tammen of the Historical Society of Marshall County and Rep. Sue Cahill (D-Marshalltown). Both spoke about the Marshalltown Public Library and the loss of $200,000 in funding, which might cause a closure of the library two days per week. Tammen said the library is a jewel of the entire state.
“This goes into the bigger items on the list of ‘How do we get funding for things we want, things we need in our community?'” Cahill asked.
She added that she feels for the Marshalltown City Council members because they will have to decide whether or not to return the $200,000 to the library or use it for other needs.
“We’re at that point (where) everyone I’ve talked to wants their taxes to go down,” Cahill said. “But that comes at an expense. When our state taxes go down, those services previously provided for get pushed to the city, county, school district, community college, and they often then have to raise their levy fees. For me, it’s kind of a wash. You have to pay one way or another.”
Bushaw asked who was frustrated about the library closing a couple days per week, and a number of people in attendance raised their hands.
“There’s some opportunities where we can circumvent the state,” he said. “There’s grant opportunities we can apply for.”
All of the problems led the discussion to the population. The flat population growth of Marshall County is the result of all the issues addressed at the meeting. Bushaw asked if there were enough good paying jobs in the area, and he was told there either are none or that the people with the good jobs do not live here.
“How are we going to incentivize businesses to come and people to come if we don’t meet these intrinsic needs of people in the county?” he asked. “These funds will offer that opportunity if we work together.”
Bushaw closed the meeting by asking how many people want to actually do something to change the situation for the better. He said they want to identify people who want to zero in on the problems.
“Hopefully we can dig through the $6 trillion in funding and find out what we can tap,” he said. “We will be following up. This isn’t our only stop in Marshall County.”
Additional hosts of the meeting were the Iowa Federation of Labor and the AFL-CIO.
Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or firstname.lastname@example.org.