By Julie Ann Madden

Posted April 19, 2018 at 5:00 am

From the initial buying of the former Total Motors auto dealership’s properties to determining a usage for the main building and selling other parcels off, it’s been a controversial headache for the Akron-Westfield School Board.

The board members were pitted against city officials who wanted the properties to remain commercial for businesses.

Last week, their decision to sell the third parcel, a gravel lot along the west side of Iowa Highway 12 across from the school’s new bus barn location, was opposed by some local business owners and concerned citizens.

However, without any public discussion, the board members voted to enter a purchase agreement with a development corporation, The Overland Group LLC, which creates entrepreneurial opportunities for Dollar General stores.

Board Members Deb Jordt, Nick Mathistad, Nick Schoenfelder and Cory Tucker voted in favor of the sale while Board Members Josh Martinsen, Jodi Thompson and Pam Von Hagel voted against it.

There were 22 people attending the public hearing but not one person spoke in favor of the proposed sale. Five people spoke against it. The board didn’t receive any written comments.

Citizens’ Comments

Abby (Dietrich) Mahoney

Informing the board she was a Class of 2011 alum with two children currently attending A-W, Mahoney shared she’s a former Dollar General store manager.

“Bringing a Dollar General to Akron will tremendously hurt your little businesses that have contributed and donated money to your school district, my school district, my children’s school district,” said Mahoney. “I want to make sure you understand the negative impact that it could have on your school tax dollars.”

“You will no longer have tax dollars coming in — it will benefit you in the beginning but deteriorate afterward because you will have the loss that (Thorson Drug, Maynard’s Foods, Dirk’s Hardware), local businesses that support your school,” she said. “Their net sales will go down which will decrease the payroll they have to support their business which will decrease the amount of money you guys get in donations.”

Local businesses donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 10 years, she said. “We, as a community, not only support our school district by paying our school taxes and property taxes, we also give money in coming to school events,” said Mahoney. “But we also strongly support our local businesses by shopping at (them) because they help the school. If you sell the property, the only thing that the school will gain is the tax dollars.”

Although it’s been reported Dollar General will have 10 to 20 employees, “that is not the case,” said Mahoney. “You’re looking at maybe five to eight employees.”

She explained Dollar General budgets about 150 hours for employees with 50 hours going to the store manager. The hours deteriorate as the rest is divvied up between an assistant manager and three or four part-time associates.

“You’re going to take away from other businesses to be able to sell the land to Dollar General owners,” said Mahoney. “Yes, it’s up to you guys but don’t hurt the local businesses that support the school.”

Beverly Donily

Also an A-W alum, Donily agreed with Mahoney.

“I know of a couple individuals who showed interest (in the parcel that is now the Price Auction Company),” said Donily. “Both of these individuals were told (the selling price) was $15,000 flat, then it comes out in the newspaper, it sold for $9,000. It seems like a little discrepancy.”

“With this current land parcel, an interested local individual was told it wasn’t for sale,” she said. “This is a discrepancy. It’s kind of unfair to the community.”

“As far as the sale, it is your decision whom you sell this land to but as far as bringing employment, I don’t think it will amount to that much,” said Donily. “As far as the hurt it may do to our local businesses who do support the school system, I think that seriously needs to be considered.”

We need to respect businesses that have been here for years, she said.

Since Donily hadn’t been to a Dollar General store, she checked out their Hawarden store a week before this meeting.

“It’s crowded,” said Donily. “I couldn’t believe how many food products were in there (and the amount of greeting cards). There’s a lot of low quality items and my concern is we will get a store in like that — volumes of sales won’t go well and we’ll have an empty storefront on Highway 12.”

“We’re trying to fill this town,” she said. “Let’s support our current businesses and think about whether or not we want to go ahead with this sale. There’s still opportunity for other than a Dollar General to buy it.”

Connie Blake

Blake is the Security National Bank Marketing President, the Akron Area Chamber of Commerce treasurer, and an Akron Development Corporation member.

“I think the school board should have done a better job of communicating,” said Blake. “I think there wouldn’t be such a disparity between the city, Main Street and the school board about this sale. I just think that due diligence was bad that we had to hear the potential buyers of this, Dollar General, through other sources than the school board.”

“I also have concerns of it affecting Main Street,” she said. “Obviously, it could have the potential but I think we need to be better partners here. It’s true Main Street businesses — all the businesses in our community — support the school immensely. There is so much that they do for everyone. That’s not to say Dollar General is going to run them out of business but it’s certainly going to have an impact on them.”

Blake also agreed with Donily’s assessment of a Dollar General store.

“It’s very junky,” said Blake. “It’s not something I’d like people to associate with my community.”

Jennie Roed, Thorson Drug Business Manager

In addition to being an A-W alum, she and her husband bring three children to the school district.

Noting Thorson Drug has been a family business since 1913, Roed is the fourth generation — only 3 to 5 percent of corporations make it four generations.

“So this is a little important to me,” said Roed, explaining they hired a retail risk management company to assess the economic impact a Dollar General store would have on their business. “They reported every family in Akron would have to spend $12 per week on our clothing, gifts, greeting cards — anything not a prescription in order to make up for the loss in sales if Dollar General comes in.”

This is based on 15 years of over-the-counter sales, Akron’s population and demographics, the store’s inventory, and the proprietary risk management’s knowledge, she said.

“In turn what this means is one to two positions will need to be cut in the first 12 months of Dollar General entering our community,” said Roed. “We have 11 employees — eight full-time, three part-time. We were on slate to add three more part-time individuals in the next few months but if this goes through, we’re estimating we’re going to have to eliminate 1.5 full-time positions.”

Consider this from a different point of view, she said. As a pharmacy, they receive buy-out options all the time. Of course, we could cash out at any time, just live our lives great, not have to worry about anything here in Akron anymore.

“Because we are such a staple of the community, it makes it hard to even think of doing something like that,” said Roed. “We always think what is the best for our community. When it comes down to it, Akron is so important to us and we can’t imagine how people would be treated if another pharmacy came in. We just can’t do it so that’s what I’d like you to take away.”

“Sometimes the money isn’t everything,” she said. “You have to think about the future. You have to think 10 years down the road — how is this going to affect my family? How is this going to affect my children and the other generations to come?”

Roed also pointed out in the past 10 years Thorson Drug has given $128,432.98 to the school district’s organizations.

“We’d still like to continue to do that,” said Roed, “but obviously, making payroll is also a must so I’d just like you guys to consider what’s at stake. I’m just asking you to put whatever agenda you have aside to do what’s right for the long term. Sometimes it’s not about fixing a problem that you think a different entity created. When it comes down to it, you have to personalize it — sometimes have to think what if that was my mom, my wife, my child that had that job?”

“Does that make it a little bit more real?” she said. “That’s what it is for us.”

“I don’t see any other reason to go through this agreement unless you see dollar signs,” she concluded.

Jim Bundy, Maynard’s Foods Manager

“This is going to affect my livelihood,” said Bundy. “Maynard’s has 15 stores with Dollar Generals in most of the towns. (Other managers) keep telling me at meetings how lucky we are not to have one. It’s going to hurt us.”

“My big beef is as a taxpayer, you get your revenues from taxpayers and from the state, which also gets money from the taxpayers,” he said. “Our money is going to you guys. You bought this for purposes you were going to use it for and now you want to sell it to a store that is competing with me and everybody else in town.”

“We give a lot to the school,” said Bundy, “and it’s not what we give in dollar amounts. The school needs the town. The town needs the school. The city and businesses need to work together as well. You’re a gap in-between this.”

“Your last bond you had didn’t pass; it didn’t fail by much,” said Bundy, noting that in last Tuesday’s school bond elections, 10 districts passed bonds. “Now you want to sell to Dollar General. Here we’ve got these people who are not in favor of it. Will they vote for your next school bond? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know if I would or not.”

“It’s not the money we give,” he said. “It’s what we do for you guys, too. I have a young lady every Monday who comes in to work and learn. Am I going to be that willing to do it again? I don’t know.”

“All I’m asking you is to think about the whole picture, not just about the school, the town’s impact,” said Bundy. “If Dollar General is so good and they do everything — I don’t know how much they donate to the school — how come they don’t go to Hinton that doesn’t have a grocery store? How come they don’t go to those towns that lost their grocery stores if they are so good? Public conscience thinks they are doing us a favor by being here, then why not go to smaller towns that don’t have this?”

Bundy thanked the board members for their service.

Board Members’

Responses

When the issue was brought up for a vote, not one board member chose to discuss the issue. After a few moments of silence, the vote was held. After the meeting The Akron Hometowner asked the board members to share with the audience their reasons for voting as they did. Schoenfelder said they would not at the public setting but could individually.

Here are their responses to 1) Why did you personally vote the way you did? 2) Were you surprised that it was Dollar General? 3) Were you surprised there were no positive comments at the public hearing? 4) Anything else you’d like to say?

As to Question No. 3, none of the board members were surprised they received no comments in favor of the sale at the public hearing.

“Typically, people who are in favor of it don’t speak up,” said Schoenfelder. “It seems like most of the time (people against an idea) are the ones who come and speak.”

However, Von Hagel noted the board’s agenda stated “objections,” not comments so people may not have realized they could speak in favor of the proposed sale.

Although Jordt was surprised, she said, “I don’t think it’s because we don’t have support out there. I think we really do, maybe just speculation, people trust our judgment — that we are going to make a good decision.”

Nick Schoenfelder – Yes

“When we initially purchased the property, we made the agreement with the city that if they ever brought us a viable business, we would sell the property,” said Schoenfelder, “and the person who brought us this offer was (City Administrator) Dan Rolfes. It looked like a viable option, a viable business decision that I assumed they had checked out so that’s why we went ahead and made the sale.”

“(The Overland Group) was basically coming to town either way,” he said. “Whether they bought our property or this other property in Akron or the area.”

“We were selling it to the Overland Group, who they represent is up to them,” he said in response to if he was surprised that it was Dollar General.

“At the school, we’re just following through with what we had agreed to do,” said Schoenfelder. “Now could the city have communicated better on what was coming to get the Akron Development Corporation on board and the local businesses? Yes, that could have been done on their part but that’s not necessarily the school’s responsibility to do that.”

Jodi Thompson – No

“I came into the meeting with the thought I can’t make anybody happy,” said Thompson. “We were under pressure (originally) because we weren’t purchasing it for a business and now we were under pressure for selling it to a business.”

“I was just thinking we’re bringing another business into Akron,” she said, “and that’s wonderful…it will keep the people from driving to a Walmart.”

“Then I heard the people I know talk,” said Thompson, “and I couldn’t do it in my heart and still go into their businesses, knowing that I voted for some competition for them.”

“I don’t know how much competition it will really be,” she said. “People in Akron have to make a choice.”

“I was being faithful to the businesses we have in town because when I went into the meeting, I was not going to vote (against this).”

Deb Jordt – Yes

Noting she was taking care of a family matter out-of-state when the sale proposal came to the board, some of the information she received from other board members.

“Taking a look at our perspective from when we bought (the Total Motor properties), we talked about if there were opportunities for other businesses to come to town that kind of fit into that framework,” said Jordt.”Based on the information I was given, I thought it was a good opportunity for us.”

Another piece for her decision was a survey of residents living in the southern end of the school district conducted at the time the school board decided to purchase the properties.

“Those individuals in the southern end of the district felt at that time, it was a good option for us,” said Jordt. “The cost of buying the Total Motors building was certainly a lot less than the cost of building a new building so given some of the things we learned in that process, this kind of followed — this would be a good opportunity for the school district. Since we didn’t need this property, it would be a good opportunity for us to sell it.”

“(As board members) ours is to focus on the whole district, not just a section of it, and what’s best for kids,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s my job, as a board member, to determine what businesses come to town or don’t.”

“My role is to take a look at those things that are presented to us as board members and make the best decision I can,” said Jordt. “In looking at all those pieces, I believed it was a good decision.”

“While I sympathize with the business owners’ concerns, it’s not going to stop my going to Maynard’s or the drug store to shop,” she said. “That’s still a choice that I make. Just because Dollar General may be coming to town, I’m not going to do all of my things there because they don’t provide everything.”

“I still think (the sale) is a good opportunity,” said Jordt. “My responsibility is for the school district as a whole and the students. The opportunity came along, it works for us as a school district, and I think fiscally it’s a good thing to do.”

“I depended on information from other board members and the Facilities Committee,” she said. “The Facilities Committee comes from all different perspectives and looks at things in multiple ways. I think there’s some really good assessment and research that goes on. What they do is not whimsical, they really look at things before they make a recommendation because that’s part of their responsibilities. So, I trust their judgment and the steps they take to make things happen.”

Pam Von Hagel – No

“I just can’t put it into words (why I voted no),” said Von Hagel, “so I’d rather not.”

She declined to comment further.

Josh Martinsen – No

“Honestly, I came in kind of thinking I’d vote yes (because of the Facilities Committee’s research),” said Martinsen, noting the research showed Dollar General stores didn’t pull a lot of business away from other businesses. “I try to be very supportive of our in-town businesses.”

At the meeting, I hoped I would get to hear from some local businesses to hear what they thought, he said. “So when Jennie Roed spoke, I thought she had a really good, convincing presentation, had hired someone to look at it so who I am to second guess that person, a risk manager.”

“My thing is I really don’t think it will affect our businesses a lot,” said Martinsen. “I think for the most part, Thorson’s has really nice stuff and from what I’ve seen Dollar General’s isn’t. It is low end, low quality.”

“It’s going to affect (local businesses) some,” he said, “but just the thought that they are worried it’s going to affect them, I didn’t want to take that risk.”

“I think we have really good businesses — very generous not only to the school but to a lot of organizations,” said Martinsen, “and I would not want to do anything to hurt their businesses. In my mind that was decision made when they spoke.”

“I didn’t know it was Dollar General until somebody else said something — what we got was looking at a purchase from The Overland Group, a development company,” he said. “I didn’t know it was Dollar General until more recently. I wonder how many people just didn’t know it was Dollar General.”

Cory Tucker – Yes

The conversation started back when the school board decided to purchase the Total Motors property instead of “wait and wait” until city officials found a business for it, said Tucker. “We said we’re going to buy it and utilize it. If you find businesses that will bring jobs to town, we’d certainly want to be part of it.”

City officials came to the board about a marketing group who wants to come to Akron, build a building and bring 10 to 20 jobs, he explained. “It wasn’t until after the original meeting that the school board learned it was connected to Dollar General.”

When people started voicing concerns, two school board members (Tucker and Mathistad) who serve on the Facilities Committee decided to do their own research, said Tucker.

“Responses from businesses and Dollar Generals were they got along good,” said Tucker. “They worked well with each other. The common one was we were really, really concerned, Dollar General came and we didn’t see a huge change in our business. They were finding they were attracting different people than were currently shopping there. People we talked to really didn’t have a negative to say.”

“That was kind of a relief,” he said, noting as he continued to talk to people in the community, he heard a lot of good things and some concerns but the only things validated were the positive things.”

“I firmly believe our businesses will be able to adapt and adjust,” he said. I think if they want to be successful, they will be successful.”

“The reason I voted yes was the research I had, the opportunity to bring that number of jobs to town — from 8 to 12 people is Dollar General’s consistent number of employees. I still think that’s an awful big number of jobs to just add to a community,” said Tucker. “I think it’s good for the community, and it’s a great opportunity.”

Tucker was impressed with Dollar General’s business model, finding it “enlightening and comforting.”

“They don’t care about your local grocery stores because people who are shopping locally will continue to shop local,” he explained. “(Dollar Generals) are really aimed at those late night trips to Walmart. They like to be within a 25- to 30-mile radius of Walmart and give those communities opportunities to shop there.”

“I was disappointed to find out some people weren’t very forthcoming with information, knew what the intention was and didn’t share that information,” said Tucker. “I’m glad it came out well before the vote so we had the opportunity to kind of get in front of it, do some research and make sure what we were doing was best for the school district.”

“I feel we did our due diligence on our research, got the best information we could get,” he said. “There isn’t anybody on the board that doesn’t have the district’s best interest at heart.”

“We’re doing what we feel is best for the school district and of course, the business community is a big part of that,” said Tucker. “The goal isn’t to impact them in a negative way. It’s to help build that and grow that.”

“This thing just continues to be our attempt to work with the city,” he said. “If we can bring jobs, we can potentially bring kids to town and hopefully those kids will live here, stay here and work here when they get out of school. That’s ultimately our goal.”

“I think that should be everybody’s goal, city included,” said Tucker. “I hope they come to town.”

He noted Akron’s done that with two banks, two convenience stores. “It can be done.”

Nick Mathistad – Yes

Via email, Nick Mathistad responded:

1. Personally, why did you vote the way I did?

a. We had agreed with the city that if they found a business that was interested in the property, we (school board), would entertain a proposal. The city sent The Overland Group our way and a fair proposal was offered.

b. There was concern from local businesses that the sale would adversely affect their sales. I did some research by calling area communities that had experienced similar situations. In most instances, businesses were impacted some, but were still able to flourish. I believe that we, as a community, will continue to support the local businesses and they will continue to flourish.

c. Finally, there was no guarantee that if the property was not sold to the Overland Group, that they would not have found an alternative property.

2. Surprised to learn it was Dollar General? No

3. Surprised there were no positive comments at the hearing? No.

Purchase Agreement

According to the Purchase Agreement executed April 9, The Overland Group has a 90-day inspection period of the property and that can be extended another 90 days. During this time, the buyer could choose not to purchase the property.

Comments are closed.

Bla