Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 27, 2008

Sullivan’s Salvos 10/28/08

Remember, there are still plenty of opportunities to vote early in Johnson County! Follow this link for the satellite voting schedule:

Writing in the Press Citizen, Bob Elliott complained that the Land, Water, Future campaign would take too much land off the tax roles.

I have checked with Assessors and others, and they do not foresee Johnson County losing any tax revenue should the initiative pass. Here are a few reasons why:

a. Much of the land that that would be of interest is marginal farm ground at best. So it is already not heavily taxed.

b. Much of the land that would be of interest is already enrolled in programs such as Forest Reserve, so taxes on the property are already next to nothing.

c. Certain properties will go up in value… for example, homes that border Hickory Hill assess higher than nearby homes that do not border the park. Trails tend to have a similar effect on property values.

d. Johnson County has $10 billion in assessed value. $20 million amounts to two-tenths of one percent of that value. Even without factoring in my first 3 points, it is like comparing a $200 improvement on a $100,000 house. In the overall picture, it is an impact so small as to be statistically insignificant.

So, if you do not believe me, ask an Assessor. (That is what Bob should have done.) Talk to real experts, not the guy writing a column.

The Assessors do not expect the passage of Land, Water, Future to affect the revenues of local governments in any measurable way.

So if this land is already being preserved, why pass the initiative? Great question. And I have a couple answers.

First, it is great that some landowners preserve the land. It is even better when these treasures are available to the public.

Secondly, it isn’t really preserved unless you own it. Anyone out there ever been told, “Oh, that will never develop,” only to see it happen a few years later? Bottom line – unless the public owns it, it ain’t protected!

Vote YES for our Land, Water, and Future! And before you go to vote, check out this website:

For all that I write about County government, I am sure that I have never shared all of my beliefs. So I will share a few more now. Following are some of my philosophies as they relate to Johnson County government:

Johnson County is a special place, fairly unique in Iowa. We are blessed to have a large number of residents who are experts in their respective fields. I believe that Johnson County government should reflect this. In my opinion, every individual department in Johnson County government should rank in the top 3-4 in Iowa.

Similarly, Johnson County is the 4th or 5th most populous county in Iowa. More populous counties have larger budgets, and typically provide more services. No matter what the anti-government folks say, it does cost money to provide quality services. For reasons of population it once again makes sense to me that Johnson County departments be among the top 3-4 performers.

If we expect Department Heads to be in the top 3-4 performers in the state, we should expect to compensate them in a similar fashion. For the most part, this is the case.

Needless to say, while some objective measures exist, there are no tried and true rankings of individual departments. When I try to investigate this type of thing, I ask department heads from other counties, elected officials from other counties, and state officials. People are typically eager to tell you if your department is one of the very best; they will be more reserved if it is not.

My admittedly very unscientific rankings put most Johnson County departments squarely in that top 3-4. Depending upon how many ways you slice County government into offices and departments, I would say roughly 21 or 22 out of 25 offices and departments are solidly in the top 3-4 in Iowa. Again, this is very subjective. But it should make residents feel good.

Department Heads and Elected Officials can help to quantify this process by collecting their own data. For example, the County Assessor accesses state data to compare which Assessors Offices come the closest to reflecting actual sales prices. The Johnson County Assessor has been the second closest in the state three consecutive years. This type of data is very helpful in assessing the performance of a department.

In a similar vein, I expect every Department Head and Elected Official to be familiar with the “best practices” in their fields. In this case, we often need to leave the borders of Iowa to find appropriate measuring sticks. Johnson County may not be able to be cutting edge in every area, but we should at the very least be familiar with the policies, practices, technologies, and services that make a department cutting edge.

Obviously, I am just one Supervisor. We have never reached a Board consensus on these issues. What are your thoughts? How does Johnson County government compare? Do you agree with my ideas? How well do you expect Johnson County to perform?

I recently participated in a debriefing that covered the flood response in Johnson County. Several key players from FEMA, the State of Iowa, the Corps of Engineers, Iowa City, Coralville, and Johnson County came together to discuss what worked well and what can be improved.

I was very pleased by this exercise. Most of the people that needed to be there were there. The participants took it very seriously, and we definitely came up with a few ways we can improve for next time.

My involvement in emergency responses had been limited to a couple ice incidents until this June. Then I spent about 14 crazy days doing nothing but emergency response. I know I gained a much greater appreciation for the preparations that had already been made. That is why the process we just completed is so very important.

From Johnson County resident Elizabeth Cummings: There is a local fundraiser for Farm Sanctuary - the non-profit that rescued the 69 pigs from the Oakville flood. This same group took on the responsibility of transporting and rehabilitating these abandoned, "not ready for slaughter" animals.

For more information on the pigs' story, rescue, and Elizabeth’s involvement with their rescue, folks can go here: . . . and if moved to donate, they simply click the (not-so-subtle) Sponsor Me Now button.

The fundraiser is at the Red Avocado restaurant, Wednesday, Oct. 29th, from 5:30-8:30PM. Elizabeth will give a short talk, show photos of her time with the pigs, and 50% of that night's profits will go toward the care of the Iowa pigs at Farm Sanctuary.

DID YOU KNOW? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County served 777 young people in 2007. Despite all these kids being matched, BBBS has over 70 boys on a waiting list. Please call BBBS at to find out how you can help!

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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