- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

LE MARS, Iowa (AP) - In recent years, Le Mars residents have suggested new or improved recreation trails and parks to city leaders.

Thanks to a challenge grant from Wells Enterprises Inc., the city is hoping to have more than $5 million for quality-of-life projects that will cover the city.

The Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1pc2Bs0 ) reports that the city and Wells CEO Mike Wells recently announced that the company will provide a $2.5 million matching grant over seven years toward those improvements.

Wells, the maker of Blue Bunny ice cream and frozen novelties, has more than 2,000 employees at its company headquarters, two ice cream plants and a giant freezer in Le Mars, making it easily the largest employer in the Plymouth County seat of about 9,800.

Wells, a privately-owned and operated family business, will match every dollar raised up to $2.5 million, and the city hopes that donations and grant applications will bring that total past $5 million.

“We kick-started the first Community Betterment Program in 2002 with a challenge grant of $1.5 million over 10 years,” Wells said. “It was extremely successful in helping gain support from local businesses and individuals across the community. The challenge grant once again allows the entire community to get involved in projects that promote excellent quality of life in Le Mars.”

City councilman and mayor pro-tem Rex Knapp said the council believes such improvement should be funded through donations from businesses and individuals rather than property taxes. The challenge grant enables the city to complete a number of projects without placing a higher tax burden on its citizens.

“It’s worked out well in the past and it keeps property taxes low and people get involved,” Knapp said.

Knapp said the Le Mars Betterment Foundation will form a fundraising committee, and hopes are that the match can be met in two to three months.

“We want to do it quick because we want to get some of these projects done this year,” he said. “We don’t want it to drag out.”

Based on the success of the past challenge grant and the number of projects residents have suggested, Knapp said the city and the Betterment Foundation approached Wells about doing another challenge grant. Wells said he was happy that the company could cooperate again.

“Wells believes in sharing its success with the local community and quality-of-life improvements is something that will be enjoyed by all families in Le Mars along with the employees of Wells,” he said. “The Wells family and Wells Enterprises have been a part of this community for over 100 years, and we are proud to call Le Mars home. We can’t think of a better investment to make, and we’re excited to take the lead.”

Knapp said some of the projects include dredging of the municipal pond and building a shelter house there, extending the current nine-mile recreation trail and developing a dog park and campground. The city has wanted to do those projects for a long time, Knapp said, and now will have the money to hire architects and get cost estimates.

Wells, like other Le Mars residents, looks forward to seeing how the money will be spent to improve the community.

“I look forward to the enhancements the city is proposing which will encourage even more people to consider living and working in the Le Mars community,” Wells said. “I definitely want people to realize that Le Mars has a lot to offer. It’s a great place to raise a family and run a business.”


Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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