Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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February 19, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 2/16/10

Happy Mardis Gras! The Saints get their first Super Bowl victory, and now Mardis Gras! Congrats to the fine folks of New Orleans! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The City and County Conference Boards met recently to discuss the performances and budgets of the Iowa City and Johnson County Assessors.

Assessors are the folks who determine the value of all our taxable real estate. Every county has an Assessor; so do several of the larger cities. In some areas, notably Des Moines/Polk County and Waterloo/Black Hawk County, the City Assessor’s Office has been absorbed by the County Assessor’s Office.

The Iowa City Assessor handles all the property inside Iowa City proper; the Johnson County Assessor does everything else. The IC Assessor is responsible for about $4.3 billion in appraised value; the JC Assessor is responsible for about $5.5 billion. Both serve a little over 65,000 residents.

Houses, businesses, farms and the like all go up and down in value. Because Johnson County has historically been viewed as a very good place to live, property values here have gone up steadily. While property values across the country crashed as the housing bubble broke, property values in Johnson County have remained fairly flat.

Property tax-levying governmental units (county, cities, schools) are represented on the Conference Boards. So the IC Assessor’s Office is overseen by Johnson County, Iowa City, and the ICCSD. The JC Assessor’s Office is overseen by Johnson County, ten cities (all but IC), and ten school districts (including the ICCSD).

Now for some very good news: Assessors are measured for accuracy and ranked every year. The IC Assessor’s Office ranked #8 in the state out of about 115 offices. The JC Assessor’s Office ranked #1. That is correct – Johnson County was number one!

In addition to being number one as a simple matter of pride, we should be extremely pleased by these results. This means that property tax payers are likely paying their fair share. You are not likely paying too much, nor are you paying too little, relative to all property tax payers. That is a very good thing.

We are being well served by our Assessors. Congratulations to Iowa City Assessor Denny Baldridge, Johnson County Assessor Bill Greazel, and all their employees on these tremendous accomplishments!

I have not yet weighed in publicly on the ICCSD redistricting discussions, but I certainly do have some thoughts:

First, parents (and other adults) need to chill. If you make statements such as, “this will do irreparable damage to the psycho-social well-being of my child”, you may be correct. But it will not be the ICCSD doing the damage… it will be overreactive parents.

Secondly, the ICCSD is a great district. I am confident that it will remain outstanding regardless of how this turns out. There are hundreds of millions of children in this world less privileged than those in the ICCSD. Let’s count our blessings.

Thirdly, parents need to try to look at the overall good of the community. There is a substantial body of scholarly evidence showing that elementary schools achieve much better academically when the percentage of students getting free and reduced lunch is under 50%. So let’s try to reduce these concentrations of poverty. We know right now that Shimek will never have the same percentage as Twain. It makes no sense to try to make them exactly the same. But Shimek’s percentage can easily go up without adverse affects, while Twain would benefit from less poor kids. So why not see if this can be achieved through reasonable means? It is better for EVERYONE if we improve in this regard.

Fourthly, Board and Administration… you KNEW people were going to have a fit about this. So do whatever you can to eliminate extraneous issues. (Have plenty of parking at meetings, allow plenty of time for comments, have mikes that work, etc.) Then, make some decisions. Decide quickly, but take some time with implementation.

Fifthly, and most importantly… this process has uncovered some real ugliness. We cannot back down from these challenges; we must address them. My children are African American. It pains me to know that people hold so many preconceived negative notions about them. Johnson County is home to lots of good people of all different backgrounds; unfortunately, we have a few residents who cause a lot of problems. Hold those folks accountable, but do not blame a whole ethic group for the transgressions of a few people.

Finally, once the dust settles and a decision is made, let’s support our schools. Get involved. Volunteer. Read to kids. Lead a scout troop. Coach a youth team. Become a foster parent. You can make a significant difference in the lives of our children.

The Sullivan for Supervisor team will be Bowling For Kids Sake once again this year. We have room on our team for two bowlers… would you like to join the cause? If so, let me know! Otherwise, we would love to have you sponsor us. Just go to the BBBS website at

And follow the links.

DID YOU KNOW? In 1930, Iowa had 230,000 farms. In 2008, Iowa had 90,000. (Source: ISU Extension.)

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

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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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