Stopping by Winterset on Tuesday, U.S. Congresswoman Cindy Axne pulled up a chair at Cabin Coffee to listen to the concerns of Mayor Phil Macumber; Chamber of Commerce representatives Heather Riley (Director) and Teddi Yaeger (Tourism/Marketing Coordinator); and Tom Leners (the Executive Director of the Madison County Development Group). The congresswoman was interested in assessing how businesses in the area are doing as communities reopen after COVID-19.

Communicating from behind a cloth mask, Rep. Axne began to address the concerns of the group. Attendees also wore masks.

Rep. Cindy Axne

U.S. Congresswoman Cindy Axne addresses the concerns of civic leaders during Winterset visit.

“To get back to normal, we may need to do things a little abnormally.” 

All in attendance agreed that “new normal” has been a hard pill to swallow.

“We all know that this is going to be an ongoing situation with COVID,” Axne continued. “Unfortunately states that reopened really early are surging again with new cases. Many of the new cases include young people which make it harder to track, so as much caution as we can take to keep it at bay is the best way to help our economy. 

“The number one way to help the economy get back to normal is to address the healthcare aspect. If we make sure we have the supplies and the guidelines in place for businesses and that anybody that is deemed essential has the PPE and can do the temperature checks, we can keep it out of the workplace and stop the spread.”

‘Things may be abnormal for a while’

Axne requested that the group of civic leaders continue to remind the public that to get back to normal, things may have to be abnormal for a while. Rep. Axne advocated for following the CDC guidance and the wearing of masks.

The congresswoman discussed the need to get kids back to school, and that the younger kids really need to have the formative information. She also said higher institutions need to be put back together to function in the fall, and parents need to be able to go back to work.

As the group began to voice their concerns, Chamber Director Riley questioned the congresswoman regarding the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and if money was still available. 

In answering, Axne stated that during the first round, 75 percent of the loan had to be used for payroll and businesses jumped on that when they couldn’t even bring people back. In the second wave of funding, businesses had to use only 60 percent  toward payroll allowing money for maintenance, operations and expenses. Those who really need the funding now, acted during the first wave, and used it all up on payroll and now face problems with operating expenses. 

Axne thought that in the second wave of funding with the reduced percentage toward payroll that restaurants, live event vendors and offshoots of tourism could take advantage of the monies.

Postponing and canceling events

Riley said that she was concerned in regards to the different events that have had to be postponed and canceled, mentioning the Tulip Festival, as Mayor Macumber piped in to mention the John Wayne Birthday Celebration. The city of Adel was mentioned as having canceled their event in August. 

Riley’s greatest concern was the Covered Bridge Festival, and wanting to do the right thing in regards to that. Riley says she is is still weighing the options, continuing to do some fact-finding to see what other communities are doing although events that draw hundreds of people have already been canceled. 

If the Covered Bridge Festival would have to be canceled, Riley worries about how it will affect the community with all the churches, vendors, and civic organizations that benefit from the October weekend.

Teddi Yaeger conveyed her concerns regarding tourism, and how the motor coach operators have been struggling. 

After having a banner year last year with 46 groups visiting town, 2020 was set to be even better. COVID-19 brought the buses to screeching halt. Yaeger said she has 12 tours on the books, and reservations are dropping every week. 

In any given year, Yaeger says Madison County usually is over $15.5 million in travel-related expenditures, which includes convenience stores, gasoline sales etc. With the motorcoach tours, the Chamber benefits from the covered bridge tours and the souvenir sales. Yeager also books tourists into hotels for overnight stays, directing them to the museums and wineries. This year they are looking at a loss of about $20,000 in Chamber-related funds. Additionally, each bus spends about $1,400 throughout the community, adding up to $40,000-60,000 in losses.

Putting off potential projects

Mayor Macumber said the city is doing almost everything that they would have done normally, however, they have put off every potential project they could. There have been no capital investments. The pool is closed for the season, and recreation facilities kept parks closed until recently. 

Macumber is worried about the local option sales tax and the road use tax, and how it will impact the city in the coming months. He believes it will be the second half of this year and next year that will affect the city to some degree.

Madison County Development Group Director Tom Leners is still trying to work on fiber connectivity. Winterset is among the communities with a lot of employees working from home due to the pandemic, as well as students who will need the internet for studies. The mayor also mentioned the crowd of cars that convenes around the library just to take advantage of their WiFi.

Leners noted that Winterset is one of the bigger square mile districts in the state and does a lot of bus miles and a lot of kids to the south and west just don’t have enough connectivity to do their homework.

After listening to the concerns of the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Madison County Development Group, Rep. Axne said that while that the virus is something that will impact us for a while, maybe the silver lining in it all is that we are seeing the inequity it has created.

Managing editor at the Madisonian.