Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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August 7, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 8/10/10

In this edition:

*Happy Anniversary!
*Thanks, Mark & Marc!
*Exploring Western Iowa
*Still No Green!
*Did You Know?

*Happy Anniversary
I don’t really want to get into Leo Greco mode here, and acknowledge every special occasion that occurs in Johnson County. But I certainly need to wish a very happy 20th wedding anniversary to Andy and Michelle Gnida of Big Grove Township.

Andy and Michelle are two of the best people I know. It has been my privilege to call them friends these many years. Here is to the next twenty!

*Thanks, Mark & Marc!
Thanks to local businessmen Mark Ginsberg and Marc Moen for footing the bill for the pianos that sit in downtown Iowa City.

A really cool addition to a really cool place! Thanks, gentlemen! These are the types of things that make our community great!

*Exploring Western Iowa
My family and I recently got back from a trip to the Loess Hills area of western Iowa. It was a beautiful area and a nice trip, but I could not help but look at a few things from the perspective of a County Supervisor.

Upon arriving back home, I made a few calls and verified some information. Here are a few impressions:

I was struck by the prevalence of Level B (dirt) roads. Unlike in Johnson County, these roads are not just for agricultural access. Out in the Loess Hills, dirt roads play a key role in getting people from here to there. Because of the heavy usage, the western counties put more maintenance into their dirt roads. Still, weather renders these roads impassable on a frequent basis. The people who live there simply deal with it.

The cropland is not nearly as good in western Iowa. Because of this, you get two big differences: First, much of the land is suitable only for grazing, which leads to more livestock production. Secondly, more land is preserved for public use, including hunting.

These phenomena have interesting tax consequences. Ag land in Iowa is assessed using a productivity formula. That formula does not really address livestock; it is based on crop production. So farmers in areas where the land is very good (and taxes are therefore higher) have incentives to raise crops rather than livestock. Similarly, when land is marginal for crops, the creation of hunting/recreation areas becomes a more economically feasible option.

Tourism is a real key for the Loess Hills area. There are large swaths of land that are over an hour from Sioux City and over an hour from Council Bluffs. That is pretty isolated. The only other industry is ag. Agriculture alone cannot prop up the whole area. They need to market themselves as a destination if the area is to survive.

Unfortunately, governments tend to come under fire when they invest in tourism; it is often viewed as “less than” other industries. I can understand the skepticism, because not every location has what it takes to make tourism a key industry. And Iowans have been brainwashed to believe that no one wants to visit their state.

But numbers do not lie, and the numbers show that tourism is big business in many parts of Iowa, including Johnson County. The Loess Hills has natural beauty that cannot be recreated elsewhere! This is not a mall or an arena; it is truly unique.

We enjoyed our visit, and we would recommend that others make a similar trip! But given the choice, I’ll take Johnson County.

*Still No Green!
I continue to be frustrated by the lack of action on green initiatives from local governments. I was one of the voting members of the Johnson County Council of Governments (JCCOG) who pushed that organization to take the lead on green initiatives. My thinking was that it made sense for local governments to collaborate on this issue.

I wrote the following in Salvos in April of 2009 – 16 months ago! Unfortunately, nothing has changed. (Except that I am no longer on the JCCOG Board.) Here is the passage from 15 months ago:

One year ago, Johnson County signed on to the Sierra Club “Cool Counties” program. At roughly the same time, Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty signed on as Sierra Club “Cool Cities”.

That is great, right? We are all green here! Regrettably, very little has happened since these agreements were signed.

One of the key components of becoming a Cool County or Cool City is the creation of a citizen advisory committee. I was one of many folks who thought it made sense to make this advisory committee regional, rather than having 4 separate committees. Most elected officials felt similarly, so it was decided that the advisory committee would be a committee of the Johnson County Council of Governments (JCCOG).

The JCCOG committee finally met in very late March. Better late than never, obviously. One would think that applying green principles to flood recovery would have made a lot of sense. What’s more, much of the Federal Stimulus Plan had a green focus. We may have really missed out by delaying so long!

Meanwhile, no big initiatives have come from Johnson County or our cities. Discussion of green ideas keeps getting pushed to the back burner.

The people assigned to this committee are great people. They can advise all they want, but at some point, elected officials need to get moving.

So, next time you hear something from Johnson County, North Liberty, Iowa City or Coralville touting how “green” they are, hold them accountable. Make sure they are doing more than lip service. What actual steps have been taken? Earth Day is coming up. Hold your local elected officials accountable when they show up for their photo ops. Let’s demand some real progress!

Again, that was written 16 months ago. In total, it has been almost three years. Johnson County is trying to move forward; where is the JCCOG commitment?

*DID YOU KNOW? The fringe benefit package for Johnson County employees is equal to 42.3% of salary for family health coverage; 25.7% for single coverage.

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

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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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