Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 20, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 1/17/12

In this edition:

*Future of Ag
*TIF Thoughts
*TIF Public Hearing
*Did You Know?

*Future of Ag
The Board passed a Multiple Special Events Ordinance at our last meeting. Many folks were referring to this as the “Schwab Amendment” in reference to Dick Schwab’s Celebration Barn. (That is his older structure, not the new Celebration Farm on Highway 1.)

I think that label is a misnomer. Frankly, I was much more motivated by the concerns of the folks who own Wilson’s Orchard. The thing I realized during this discussion is that we have a lot of work to do. If agriculture is going to continue to play a role in the future of Johnson County, we are going to need to adjust.

Most ag in Iowa (and Johnson County) is large volume (also known as “traditional”) agriculture. These are farms of 400 or more acres, mostly corn and beans. If they raise livestock, it is cattle and hogs. We do fine in that area. We support this type of ag operation, and we do more than any other county to preserve farmland.

There is another type of farming – some would call it “old fashioned”, others would say it is the future. This includes value-added ag, ag tourism, co-ops, organic standards, CSAs, you-pick-‘em operations, on-farm processing, and much more. All of these innovations mean more people coming to the rural areas.

The rules and regs that serve “traditional” ag do not always work for the ag of the future. If we want any type of ag to continue to exist in Johnson County, we are going to need to step up and address these issues.

What do you think about our ag future? Where do we go from here, and how do we get there? I am open to your ideas!

*TIF Thoughts
The recent case study of TIFs in Johnson County ( and the subsequent public hearing has started some much-needed discussion on the topic.

I have spent over a decade discussing/debating this topic, so I see no point in stopping now! I’d like to address some points that were made at the recent forum.

Report author Peter Fisher recommended that State law should be amended to disallow TIFs for residential or retail – period. TIF should only be used for basic sector projects. Yet in Johnson County, much of our retail is TIFed. Why? As Fisher points out, retail follows population/location. North Liberty has not increased its retail because of TIF – it has increased its retail because the population tripled.

Fisher made a key point when he suggested that TIFs should be project based, and they should end once the project has been paid off. The argument is that TIFs are required to recruit businesses. If the business has already been “recruited” and is already operating, why continue the TIF? If the infrastructure has already been paid off, why continue the TIF? The Economic Development Director from the City of Bettendorf was in attendance, and he claimed Bettendorf has “never used one nickel more” than was necessary to pay off the project. Iowa City has done this on most occasions. Seems like a common sense way to do business – hopefully, lawmakers will agree.

It was argued that Coralville TIFs have created many good jobs. I do not dispute this fact. But they have also created some crappy jobs. What’s more, Coralville’s wage statistics include many University and other State jobs in the Oakdale area, which should not require any subsidies. And State jobs – while excellent jobs – exist in buildings that pay no taxes, and do not appreciate in value.

It was noted that the UI is a huge economic development engine for Iowa City. Of course! But why does that matter? Plus, Coralville has hundreds of UI and State jobs at Oakdale, and the city also benefits from hundreds of students who choose to call Coralville home. The UI is definitely a cash cow – and Coralville benefits!

Sales taxes were also mentioned. I think this is a red herring. As mentioned earlier, retail activity is driven by population and location. So are sales taxes. Plus, many of the Coralville increases in sales tax came at the expense of Iowa City – Penny’s, Sears, Best Buy, etc. were already paying sales taxes in Johnson County, just not in Coralville. To top it off, those sales taxes go to the State, not the County.

Fisher’s numbers were criticized by some people in the crowd. I find this disappointing. We live in a community where academic, scientific, peer-reviewed research is sacrosanct. As a tenured professor and researcher who has been published scores of times, Fisher has tremendous credibility. The onus should be on those who question his numbers to come up with their own.

I have said it before, and it remains true: I am NOT anti-Coralville! Coralville is a great city, forward thinking and bold. The place is full of people I consider friends. And TIF is not solely about Coralville; most cities in Johnson County use the tool. Again, I am NOT anti-Coralville. I’d like to see a different question asked: are other folks anti-Johnson County?

Finally, and sadly – still few people are willing to address the impact of TIF on the County. As I said at the forum, County government is the “stepchild” of governments. It would be great to get more respect!

Why not give all taxing entities a vote on TIFs? If it is a good idea, the County and the schools should vote to support it.

At least the conversation is under way!

*TIF Public Hearing
That conversation continues Saturday, January 21 at 10:00 AM the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building, 855 S. Dubuque Street in Iowa City.

Senator Bolkcom will be holding yet another public hearing on TIF – but this time, the public gets to be more involved! I hope you will attend!

*DID YOU KNOW? Johnson County had 1612 property sales in 2010, 82 of which were foreclosures (5.1%). Through 11 months of 2011, there have been 2182 sales, 73 of which were foreclosures (3.3%). (Source: Johnson County Assessor.)

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

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