Postville on the brink of collapse, town leaders tell Braley
By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, Courier Staff Writer
POSTVILLE — In a visit Thursday with Rep. Bruce Braley, Postville city officials painted a dire picture of a town decimated by population loss and unemployment.
Blighted homes abandoned by owners unable to make mortgage payments mar city blocks.
Simply providing water and sewer utilities leaves the town in debt.
City clerk Darcy Radloff said she receives less than half of the $95,000 in monthly water and sewer fees from 860 residential accounts. The City Council voted to stop monthly payments to the federal government on a costly water treatment plant because the the city is broke. It relied on Agriprocessors to pay off most of the loan, and the company has not paid a single bill to the city since September.
Postville, which used to be home to 2,300 people, taps surrounding county jails to handle the increased number of arrests.
Mayor Bob Penrod said the town has lost at least 40 percent of its population since an immigration raid last year brought Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant that employed 900 people at its peak, to its knees.
“We don’t have enough population left to maintain our obligations. We are running a deficit,” Penrod said. “It’s not a pretty picture, believe me.”
School principals are concerned about taking a step back on standardized test scores with so many new students. In addition, recently arrived children often come from troubled homes and require social services.
“I never had dealt with DHS (Deparment of Human Services). I’ve talked to them more this year than I probably will for the rest of my career,” said Chad Wahls, Postville’s elementary and middle school principal.
To top it off, a $698,000 federal grant designed to keep people in their homes is set to run out at the end of February.
Braley encouraged the town to stay in contact with his staff and apply for the many grants that will come available if a proposed $825 billion stimulus bill passes Congress. The money could provide more cops on the street and grants for things like water treatment facilities, he said.
He told the group to also talk to Iowa’s two senators. They hold powerful positions on important committees, he said, and might be able to pull some strings for Postville, a town he called the poster child for the country’s broken immigration system.
“If you’re in the situation I sense you’re in, you’ll want to take any train leaving the station,” he said.
City and regional officials were only one of several groups to meet with Braley. The Iowa congressman said seeing so many people banding together gives him confidence that the town will rise back on its feet.
“It reminds me a lot of the communities after the floods and tornadoes this summer; people knocked on their backs trying to come together and rebuild,” he said.