County supervisors voted not to back a loan to fund development at Prairie Creek Recreation Area. 

After the meeting, Jackson County Conservation Board members said they will have to “get creative” if they hope to fund cabins and a campground on the former Robert Martin property southeast of Maquoketa.

More than 20 people crowded into the supervisors’ small board room Tuesday, rubbing elbows as they spoke for and against the proposal. More people stood in the hallway.

The development would have required the county general fund to act as a co-signer on a loan for up to $2.5 million from Northland Securities. The county would have been responsible for making a $130,000 loan payment each year for 20 years. Repayment would have come from Conservation’s park usage fees, including the rentals of four cabins and more than 50 campsites, as well as other Conservation-run recreation areas in the county.

County supervisors Mike Steines and Jack Willey voted against the proposal, while supervisor Larry McDevitt voted in favor of it.

Willey said he wasn’t opposed to the project, just the “aggressiveness” of the project. 

“Taxpayers are very concerned about backing the $2.5 million loan. …I’m just so concerned about the $2.5 million loan and generating the revenue to pay the bill,” Willey said.

Steines worried about the expensive maintenance that offsets revenues from the county’s current campgrounds along the Mississippi and said that some expenses, such as cabin housekeeping, weren’t accounted for in projections.

McDevitt, who also sits on the Conservation Board, said he already sees high usage at Prairie Creek’s pavilion and parking lot. He thinks a campground and cabins would help “keep younger families here.”

“I understand there’s some risk but very little,” McDevitt said. “We have a million-dollar farm that was given to us. What a head start for any county.”

After the vote, Conservation Board president Jim England and Conservation director Daryl Parker said they didn’t yet know what strategies they might turn to if they hope to still fund the project. They may go back to the drawing board to scale back designs again.

Willey suggested phasing Prairie Creek developments, while Parker said that the up-front costs of excavating and earthwork would make phasing difficult.

Public voices

opinions

In public comments, 11 people addressed the supervisors, seven in support and four opposed. On one side of public opinion, fiscal conservatives worried that county taxpayers would be on the hook to pay for the project if revenues didn’t meet projections.

Some wondered why the county was even involved in campground development, which could compete with private business. Others were nervous about multiple projects in the pipeline in Jackson County, including a hospital, jail and schools.

Bob Larkey of Maquoketa Livestock Sales doesn’t think that the county should be involved in Prairie Creek developments. 

“We need all the money we’ve got to keep the roads and bridges going in Jackson County,” he said.

J. C. Cox of Lakehurst Riverside Campground said that he doubted Parker’s revenue projections based on his personal experience with a small campground and pavilion.

Other residents didn’t blink at revenue projections. They saw Prairie Creek campground developments and cabins as an economic development tool and a boon for quality of life.

“I’m for the Prairie Creek development because it’s something that’s forward-looking in the county,” said Marilyn Schroeder of Bellevue. 

“As someone who’s libertarian-oriented, I’m a big proponent of anything that government can do that doesn’t put a burden on the taxpayers,” said Maquoketan Dave Gossman, who has long been active in the project. “This is a bigger project, but it makes sense economically.”

His wife, Sue Gossman of the Maquoketa Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, agreed. 

“We need things to defer tax increases,” she said. “The only way to do that is to generate more revenue. This is in the best interest of the county, the city and the folks who live here.”

Maquoketa Area Chamber of Commerce director Wendy McCartt presented 21 letters in support of Prairie Creek, including one from Willey’s wife Marilyn Willey.

“We’ve heard concerns and input from many, many people in the county,” Steines said. “We did have a public hearing on it. That was probably the time to come forward and speak. I’m not going to have this meeting become a debate.”

In other news, the county supervisors:

•Approved the next fiscal year’s budget for the county, including a 3 percent raise for elected officials.

•Approved $420,700 to replace unsafe grandstand seating at the Jackson County fairgrounds.