Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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August 1, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 8/3/10

In this edition:

*Funding a Justice Center
*Ag/Biosciences Tour
*Swisher Fun Days
*Did You Know?

*Funding a Justice Center
Johnson County continues to work toward a vote on a new Justice Center, but the road is not always smooth. A recent meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) was an example of why many folks have been frustrated by the process.

The meeting began with Iowa City Councilor Connie Champion expressing her aggravation with the pace of the CJCC. Connie has served for almost ten years, and has seen little action. There were several committee members who shared her disappointment. Somehow, the Press Citizen, Gazette, and DI were all at the meeting, yet none mentioned the frustration in the room. (For what it is worth, you can now listen to audio of Board meetings on your own computer! Check it out if you wish to hear things for yourself.)

The CJCC has 4 subcommittees: Alternatives and Treatment, Finance, Facilities, and Public Information. I am going to focus on the work of the Finance Subcommittee.

The primary job of that subcommittee is to identify the possible methods of funding a justice center. That actually isn’t too hard; Iowa law significantly limits the options. The only options allowed are bond referendum, sales tax referendum, and a lease back agreement.

Realistically, things are even more limited than that. Using a sales tax to fund a justice center is not an option right now. Iowa has capped the amount of sales tax municipal governments can charge. The state recently made a controversial exception to allow for flood recovery. You remember the vote – Iowa City and several small cities passed it; Coralville, North Liberty, and the unincorporated areas did not. So IC is at the max sales tax rate; Coralville, North Liberty, and the unincorporated areas are below.

What would have to occur to use a sales tax? First, the Iowa Legislature would have to amend the law to allow for higher sales taxes. This will not happen.

Secondly, the Iowa Legislature would have to allow all this new revenue to be directed to the county, rather than the cities in which it is collected. Why would cash-strapped cities allow that? Why would the Legislature offend all the residents of all those cities? The very idea is ridiculous!

Thirdly, voters in the cities that rejected the tax last time might reject it again. That could create a scenario where people in Iowa City and small towns pay for the justice center, while people in Coralville and North Liberty do not. That wouldn’t fly!

Finally, voters would need to approve it. In Johnson County, sales tax referenda have fared considerably worse than bond referenda over the years. Using a sales tax mechanism creates a large bloc of opposition from progressives. It is not a good political move.

At one point, the Chair of the Finance Subcommittee (Supervisor Rettig) reported on a conversation she had with State Senator Joe Bolkcom, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Senator Bolkcom felt that citizens in Johnson County already had the sales tax “tool” available to them; they just needed to vote for it. He thought it was “extremely unlikely” that the Legislature would make the changes necessary for Johnson County to access an extra penny in sales tax. So we heard the facts from the horse’s mouth.

Anyone could look at this situation and see that using a sales tax to fund a project of this immediacy is simply not going to happen. So, as if on cue, a number of members of the CJCC suggested that we explore using a sales tax.

I was livid. The decision had been made for us. We had an opportunity to move on. This is why so many dislike government; they see it as immobile and ineffective.

I moved that we pursue a bond referendum as the funding mechanism. The vote was 9-6 in favor. I honestly cannot understand the 6 “No” votes; to me, this was just common sense.

I know some people wanted the Finance Subcommittee to make a recommendation first. To me, this is like standing in the rain waiting for the umbrella committee to make a recommendation. The proper course of action is abundantly clear. When that is the case, government needs to move!

It has already taken Johnson County WAY too long to address these issues. Some of the people who want to waste valuable time tilting at windmills regarding a sales tax are the same people who cost us 9 months by getting distracted by the Press Citizen building. We need leadership on this issue.

Supervisor Neuzil and the Public Information Subcommittee have done an excellent job of developing a timeline that would put a justice center to public vote in November of 2011. That is aggressive, but it is necessary.

I hope the members of the CJCC and the members of the Board of Supervisors will take more real actions that move us along the timeline toward a public vote.

*Ag/Biosciences Tour
The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce Ag and Biosciences Tour is Tuesday, August 13 from approximately 1-4 PM.

We will visit Kirkwood for a tour of their many Ag programs; ZJ Farms, a local farm operating under a community supported Ag model; and Cedar Ridge Winery, a local producer of wine & spirits.

We will meet at Sears at Coral Ridge Mall at 12:15 PM to carpool. Wear walking shoes!

The tour is $10 for Chamber members, $15 for others. Please call Heather at 337-9637 to reserve your spot.

*Swisher Fun Days
This weekend brings the annual Fun Days celebration to Swisher. If you are looking for a good time… the folks in Swisher know how to do just that! Check it out this Friday night and Saturday.

*DID YOU KNOW? The current average wage for FT county employees is $24.69/hour.

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.

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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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