Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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March 18, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 3/20/12

In this edition:

*Animal Shelter
*County Budget
*History of County Government in the US
*Did You Know?

*Animal Shelter
There has been news of late over disagreements regarding the County’s contract with the Iowa City Animal Shelter. Please allow me to set the record straight.

I agree that we should have an excellent shelter. But I am extremely frustrated by the way in which Iowa City did business here. I have several complaints:

First, Iowa City has insinuated that Johnson County has historically paid nothing toward the shelter. That is totally false. Johnson County budgets $75,000 annually for shelter services. The County has paid for decades. What’s more, up until a few years ago, Johnson County covered the costs for all the small cities.

Secondly, the record keeping and billing the County has received from Iowa City has been sloppy at best. It is very hard to show a taxpayer what she is getting for her tax dollar. We have requested improved record keeping for several years; this situation offered us an opportunity to make that point more forcefully.

Thirdly, if Iowa City planned on asking the County to contribute, then they should have involved us from the beginning. Our first contact was a $500,000 take-it-or-leave-it bill. Then they acted offended when we wanted to negotiate.

Fourthly, there is precedence for NOT investing in the building. Johnson County recently built an expensive SEATS building. Iowa City contracts for SEATS service. We never expected Iowa City to pitch in on the capital expenses. Perhaps we should reconsider that.

Fifthly, I'm also frustrated by the take-it-or-leave-it attitude the City used when first presenting things. Iowa City would not even respond to a written request by the Board.

Finally, my biggest complaint. I think Iowa City should have come out with a "Phase One" that was much smaller, cheaper, and only used the FEMA money. Then they should have had a fundraising campaign that raised the money for a "Phase Two" that includes all the nice extras. If the governments pay for it all up front, why would citizens contribute through private fundraising?

As you may have seen, the Board is investigating an agreement with the Cedar Valley Humane Society in Cedar Rapids. I don’t know much about them, but I know that we owe it to the taxpayers to investigate all of our options.

That said, an agreement with Iowa City is still a distinct possibility. I simply felt that the public needed to understand some of our frustrations. I remain hopeful we can work something out.

*County Budget
The FY13 County Budget went to a vote on Thursday evening, March 8. It is available for viewing at the County website: Here are a few highlights:

Much of the County budget is a pass through of state and federal funds. The actual tax askings part of the budget is up about $1 million dollars to just over $44 million.

Taxes actually go DOWN on 15/21 classes of property. Commercial, Industrial, and Ag properties will all pay less in FY13 than they did in FY12. This is not necessarily purposeful on our part; it is the result of a complicated state formula.

Residential taxpayers will see an increase of about 4.1%. The owner of a $100,000 home in Iowa City will see the County portion of her tax bill go up about $13.51.

This increase comes from three primary things – 1. Increased spending on roads and bridges; 2. A State-mandated increase in Mental Health funding; and 3. Increased spending at the Joint Emergency Communications Center (JECC). (Don’t get me started on the JECC!) Only one of those decisions was within our control.

Property values continue to increase, though at a much slower rate than in the past. New construction growth continues, though also at a slower rate. County buildings are in relatively good shape; voters will have the opportunity to decide on a new justice center in the fall of this year. County financial reserves exceed our self-imposed guidelines; we should be set in case of a “rainy day”. I think the County is well on the way to a AAA bond rating. Our 6 bargaining units have all agreed to three-year contracts that contain raises averaging right around 2% per year. That helps us in terms of longer range budget planning. The overall financial picture in Johnson County is quite strong.

A wise person once said, “budgets demonstrate priorities.” Keeping that in mind, I am proud of the fact that I lobbied for and received a small increase in human services funding. This was (and remains) a campaign promise of mine. Due to tough economic times, local agencies such as UAY, DVIP, Crisis Center, and others had not received increased funding in a few years. The increase is not much, but I feel that it demonstrates a recognition of the fact that their services are even MORE vital during difficult economic times.

Budgets are exercises in compromise, so the proposed budget contains a few things I really like, as well as a few things I don’t. But that is how budgets work. All in all, I am pretty pleased with the results.

What about you? What do you like/dislike about the County budget?

*History of County Government in the US
The origin of the American county is from the French word “conte,” meaning the domain of a count.

The American county is defined by Webster as “the largest territorial division for local government within a state of the U.S.”

Webster’s definition is based on the Anglo-Saxon county, sometimes called a shire. The head of the shire in the British Isles was the Shire Reeve, the origin for today’s county sheriff. Serving a dual function, the shire acted as the administrative arm of the national government as well as the citizen’s local government.

The county came to America with the first colonies in Virginia, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. In early American colonial times, the basic unit of local government in the New England colonies was the town. In the southern states the county developed without townships as subdivisions. As the nation expanded, new states tended to adopt either the New England approach or the southern plan.

Counties were established to carry out a variety of functions not performed by smaller towns. When our national government was formed, the Constitution did not provide for local governments, leaving the matter of local government to the states. Subsequently, early state constitutions generally conceptualized county government as an arm of the state.

As the United States grew westward, county government developed as the basic unit of local government with responsibility for delivery of public services in large regions containing widely dispersed rural populations.

After World War I, population growth, suburban development, and the government reform movement strengthened the role of local governments. Those developments set the stage for post World War II urbanization. Changes in structure, greater autonomy from the states, rising revenues, and stronger political accountability ushered in a new era for county government. The counties began providing an ever-widening range of services. These trends continue to this day.

(Thanks to the Iowa State Association of Counties – ISAC- for this article.)

*DID YOU KNOW? 41% of Iowans use recreational trails. (Source: Iowa Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.)

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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