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Newscast 5.1.2024: Parks in Iowa open for 2024; Dixon County, Nebraska voters will determine if $20M courthouse passes; Iowa Wesleyan University closing has financial difficulties

The recreation trail bridge that leads to the Little Sioux Park near Correctionville, Iowa, in Woodbury County is shown in this image by Woodbury County Conservation.

The parks in Woodbury County and all the state parks in Iowa have opened for the season on May 1.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources release noted that peak state park camping season is at hand.

The release said Iowa state parks and forest staff have busy preparing for the summer camping season, by sprucing up campgrounds, and freshening up bathroom, cabin, and shelter facilities.

There will be a Camping Kickoff Weekend event in Woodbury County on May 3-5 at Brown’s Lake-Bigelow Park, Little Sioux Park, Snyder Bend Park, and Southwood Conservation Area. People who pay for a camping spot will receive promotional items, including a coupon for one night of free camping to be used later during the 2024 season.

On the heels of 2023, which had more than 864,000 campers and almost 14 million visitor days, state park officials are anticipating another busy year.

For state park visitors, there will be some new things to use, including a new boat ramp at Twin Lakes Park in Calhoun County in Northwest Iowa.

Additionally, people in Dixon County, Nebraska, are using mail balloting to decide if a new county courthouse building costing $20 million will be built.

Voting on the bond issue proposal began the last week of April, and will continue until the evening of May 14. Dixon County Election Commissioner Cathy Stilwell said the measure will be decided by a simple majority vote.

According to the Dixon County website, officials in 2022 began a committee process that resulted in plans for the $20 million bond issue.

County employees currently work in two aging multi-story buildings that sit side-by-side, with the first one dating to 1883 and the other was added in 1940. The fact that the jail is on the top floor at times causes security concerns.

If passed, a new single-story building for employee offices and a jail will be built on a tract of land along Nebraska Highway 12.

*Additionally, steps to close out the financial holdings of a shuttered private college in Iowa are nearing completion, but there will be a large shortfall.

Since announcing its closure a year ago, Iowa Wesleyan University has been selling off assets to pay off the $26 million dollars owed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mount Pleasant Municipal Utilities is expected to soon close on its purchase of Iowa Wesleyan’s former gym. It’s the last piece of the campus on auction.

Real estate sales, thus far, have generated $3.6 million dollars, but that’s less than 15 percent of what Iowa Wesleyan University owes to the USDA.

Bob Miller was on the board of trustees in 2016 when Iowa Wesleyan agreed to the USDA’s $26 million loan, and he now is chairman of the board.

"I don't really care for the way you say 'Iowa Wesleyan will not pay back.' Iowa Wesleyan does not have the ability to pay it back. We have no remaining assets to pay it back. Banks have bad debts. They have to write off losses. And there's nothing remaining that can be done about it," Miller said.

The board aims to close its financial books by the end of May.

*In other news, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley is looking for public input on a pair of draft explanations for ballot questions brought forward by the Legislature.

South Dakota Public Radio explains that state law requires the attorney general's office to draft an explanation for each initiated measure or constitutional amendment set to appear on the statewide ballot.

One explanation is for a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to impose work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

The second would update pronouns in the state constitution for elected officials, making them gender neutral. Current language refers to the governor and other officials exclusively as male.

Jackley said his office has not taken a position on either proposal. The public comment period for these explanations is open through May 7.