Cedar County sheriff wants RAGBRAI to pay if riders come through again

This lighted outline of a bicycle greeted riders when Tipton was an overnight RAGBRAI stop in...
This lighted outline of a bicycle greeted riders when Tipton was an overnight RAGBRAI stop in 2008. The town recently installed it in a prominent place downtown.(KCRG)
Published: Oct. 30, 2017 at 6:14 PM CDT
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Each year, communities all across Iowa compete to become hosts of the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

But one top elected official in Cedar County is removing the welcome mat when it comes to future RAGBRAI trips.

Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington says he doesn’t hate RAGBRAI. But as long as small counties and communities get stuck with the bill for security to take care of riders, he’s not a big fan either.

The sheriff recently sent RAGBRAI organizers a letter saying it costs the county about $58.00 an hour for each deputy working the event. He added, if the Register won’t help with the costs if the event comes through again, then the sheriff won’t provide traffic control and assistance.

“I’m sure it’s not a popular stance. It would be easier to shut up and let RAGBRAI come through and tell my constituents there’s nothing I can do. But that would be a lie,” the sheriff said.

And those remarks aren’t popular with community and economic development leaders in Tipton.

Linda Beck, head of Tipton Economic Development, said “I want the RAGBRAI people to understand that is one opinion. There are many opinions in Tipton that are extremely positive and understand we want to showcase our community.”

Shirley Kepford, a former mayor, was the city leader in 2008. That’s the last time RAGBRAI made an overnight stop in Tipton.

“Everybody had a good time. It was successful and the write up we got from RAGBRAI riders complimented Tipton,” the former mayor remembered.

Kepford said the city of Tipton got $30,000 from RAGBRAI to help with expenses as a host city. The city spent a lot more but broke even after adding up other income. She called it a good investment.

But the sheriff’s view has some support too.

The small town of Durant in Cedar County was a “pass through” community in 20915—the last stop before the ride ended in Davenport.

Mayor Scott Spengler remembered few riders bothered to stop and spend and the town ended up losing about $6,400 after expenses. RAGBRAI does not provide any assistance for the pass through towns.

“Yeah, I’d rather them not come through Durant,” Spengler said.

Tipton submitted another bid this year to host RAGBRAI again. Asked what impact the sheriff’s comments would have, the Register’s director of RAGBRAI operations, T.J. Juskiewicz, said “We’ll take a hard look and see what is best for riders.”

And he added “we don’t go anywhere we’re not wanted.”