Week in review: 5 local stories of note from past 7 days

Ben Juran, with Applied Ecological Services, conducts a controlled burn around 16th Street Detention Basin in Dubuque on Wednesday. The burn also included the area of the Lower Bee Branch Creek and is being done to stimulate the growth of native plants and manage invasive species. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

Manufacturer eyes Dubuque for $80 million project, 271 new jobs

One of the nation’s leading pet food manufacturers proposes to invest around $80 million in a Dubuque facility.

Simmons Pet Food, based in Arkansas, aims to buy the former Flexsteel Industries plant at 501 Seippel Road by the end of this year.

The company proposes hiring 138 workers by the middle of 2021 and increasing that total to 271 full-time employees in the next three years. It also would make a series of sizable investments in order to acquire the building, retrofit the facility, install equipment and eventually expand the structure.

The proposed project remains contingent on city and state approval of incentives.

A proposed agreement with the City of Dubuque includes tax-increment-financing rebates estimated at about $3 million. The city also would provide a land-aquisition grant of more than $500,000.

The company also is requesting an $800,000 forgivable loan, a $3 million investment tax credit and a $300,000 sales, service and use tax refund from the state. The company also seeks $2.15 million in state job training funds.

COVID-19 vaccinations of Dubuque hospital staff to start this week

Some staff at Dubuque hospitals will receive the COVID-19 vaccine this week

The Dubuque County Public Health Incident Management Team announced that the county will receive 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, Dec. 14, and will immediately start vaccinating staff at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital.

Assuming Moderna receives approval for its vaccine this week, 400 doses of that are scheduled to be given to workers at Crescent Community Health Center, Grand River Medical Group and Medical Associates Clinics starting on Dec. 21.

The vaccination of residents and staff at Dubuque County’s 11 long-term-care facilities is expected to begin on Dec. 28, with assisted-living facilities to follow in January. Vaccinations for the general public are not expected to be available until this spring.

Iowa Supreme Court: Man convicted of murder entitled to new trial

The Iowa Supreme Court agrees with an appellate court that a former Dubuque man accused of killing his girlfriend is entitled to another trial.

The justices on Friday issued an opinion upholding a ruling from the Iowa Court of Appeals that vacated the second-degree murder conviction of Fontae C. Buelow, now 28.

Buelow was accused of stabbing Samantha J. Link, 21, of Peosta, Iowa, on March 31, 2017, inside his Kane Street residence. He was convicted in January 2018 and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Link had wounds on her hands that prosecutors and prosecution experts argued were “defensive wounds.” Buelow said Link stabbed herself, and a defense expert agreed when he testified during the trial.

During those proceedings, Buelow’s attorneys attempted to introduce evidence about Link’s previous struggles with mental health, but Iowa District Court Judge Monica Wittig strictly limited the information that could be admitted.

In December 2019, the Iowa Court of Appeals determined that those exclusions were improper.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller appealed, arguing that the mental health evidence was properly excluded based on past precedent and that any improper exclusions would have been “harmless” errors.

Buelow’s attorneys argued that Link’s mental health history was highly relevant and admissible evidence that supported Buelow’s assertion that she killed herself.

Dyersville project nears completion as 1st businesses prepare to move in

DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Work to complete a major development in downtown Dyersville is nearing the homestretch as two businesses prepare to move in.

Next month, Spireon Inc. will relocate to the new $8.8 million building known as The Landing, which is being developed north of First Avenue East and west of Second Street Northeast. The building not only will offer commercial space but loft apartments and condos on the upper levels as well.

Next to move in will be a Pennsylvania-based outpatient medical company, which last week announced it will branch out in eastern Iowa with plans to open early next year.

Select Physical Therapy, a division of Select Medical, will move into a 1,500-square-foot space on the main level of the building.

Each floor of the building is about 22,000 square feet. The building also will include a lower level for parking.

Dubuque County board recommends another double-digit raise for sheriff

For the third year in a row, the Dubuque County Compensation Board recently approved a salary increase recommendation of 10% or more for the Dubuque County sheriff.

In Iowa, county elected officials’ salaries are approved by each county’s board of supervisors. But the salaries must be based on a recommendation from the county’s compensation board. Each county elected official appoints a member of the board to represent his or her position on the committee. Supervisors can increase or decrease officials’ annual raises by percentage points, but it must be the same percentage point for the full list of elected officials.

By law, they can consider the county’s population ranking and cost-of-living trends in making recommendations. Based on state data, Dubuque County’s population is eighth highest in Iowa. But several county elected officials’ salaries are lower down the state’s list.

At the annual meeting Monday, Sheriff Joe Kennedy’s representative on the board, Ken Runde — himself a former Dubuque County sheriff — said the sheriff’s salary is $20,000 too low.

“He’s at $115,000 right now,” Runde said. “If you look at the others around him, it averages out that he should be about at the low $130,000s. It’s going to be a $20,000 hit to the county.”

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