Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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May 31, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/4/13

In this edition:

*Betty Sass
*Father’s Day
*No Media
*Property Tax Reform
*Property Tax Rates
*Arts Fest
*Did You Know?

         As of this writing, it appears serious flooding is on the way. A few things to remember:

         *Please follow all official advice!
*For correct info, refer to county and city websites.
         *Beware of scams!
         *Be careful! Never enter floodwaters!

         Again, see city and county websites for more information.

*Betty Sass
         You are going to think this is a misprint. It is NOT. Deputy Treasurer Betty Sass is retiring after working for Johnson County for 60 years! That is correct – 60 years!

         The Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) has looked, and they cannot find a record of anyone EVER working longer for ANY county! To add some perspective – Johnson County has had some employees retire while in their late 50s. Those retirees were not even born when Betty started with the County!

         While Betty’s years of service boggle the mind, this honor is not just about quantity. It is even more about quality. Betty Sass has always been a model employee and an outstanding boss. Despite working in an office that receives many complaints, Betty’s attitude and outlook are the best I’ve ever seen! This is not just our longest serving employee – it is probably our finest employee.

         Congratulations Betty on your 80th birthday and 60 years of service to Johnson County!

*Father’s Day
         Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there! It has been several years since I have had the pleasure of enjoying a living father or grandfather.

         If you are lucky enough to have a father or grandfather around, please take a moment to reach out to him this weekend.

*No Media
         I think it has now been a full month since anyone from the local media attended a Board meeting. Things at the County are still happening; you just don’t get to hear about it.

         I urge anyone who is interested in County government to follow us on Twitter. It is an easy way to at least get the headlines from County government. And it is all we can do in the face of a complete abdication of duty by the local media.

*Property Tax Reform
         The Iowa Legislature adjourned, but not before making the biggest changes to Iowa’s property tax system in decades!

         You can read the details several other places, but here is the scoop from an Iowa City/Johnson County perspective:

         Johnson County will lose about $650,000 in year one; Iowa City will lose about $1.5 million. It gets much worse as the years go on. Last year, we had $650,000 in new revenues, but $1.2 million in built in expenses (contracts and insurances). We bridged the gap with reserves. We cannot do that another year without resorting to cuts. Though I will be fighting against it, I expect all (or almost all) of our block grants to local nonprofits to be cut. Again, I’ll vote against it, but it seems inevitable.

With the new caps on growth and the impact of TIFs, we simply have nothing we can do except cut.

         So businesses got property tax cuts they did not need. In exchange, the public gets cuts to public safety, roads, public health, human services, transportation, and all the rest. It is not a good trade.

         I was angry to see the local Chamber of Commerce trumpeting this legislation, including saying it was “too modest”. I hope they will still take credit for the cuts this fall when 25 of their member organizations (Neighborhood Centers, DVIP, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Crisis Center, Shelter House, etc.) experience huge cuts in income, then lay off staff. We will see how proud they are then.

         The single person most to blame for this debacle is Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. He ruined his own legacy, and for what?

         There are three REALLY important things to understand in this whole debate:

1.) There was no crisis. You can spin the tax issue several different ways, but allow me to quote the experts at the Iowa Policy Project: “A recent study by Ernst and Young for the Council on State Taxation found Iowa’s overall state and local taxes on business are lower than average, and that we were tied for 29th among the states — only 20 states had lower taxes. This includes corporate income, individual income, sales, and property taxes falling on businesses of all kinds.”

“For property taxes, the complaint has little merit because footloose companies are routinely provided large rebates and other incentives through tax increment financing that offset a major share of their property tax bill.”

In short? Iowa’s businesses did not need a tax cut. And out of state corporations such as Wal-Mart CERTAINLY did not! Just think – we traded funding for DVIP in exchange for a tax cut for Wal-Mart. And the local Chamber applauds. Wow!

2.) Let’s say you have never listened to Peter Fisher – or any economist – discuss rents. Let’s say I haven’t run their stuff here many times over. Here is your reminder: rents are a function of supply and demand, NOT taxes! It is that simple. Taxes affect rents so minimally as to not even matter. It has been proven worldwide and locally time and time and time again. Mobile home park owners will not be passing their tax cuts down to folks who rent lots. Apartment owners will not be passing their tax cuts down to folks who rent apartments. Nursing home owners will not be passing their tax cuts down to their residents. Doesn’t happen. Won’t happen. So if that was your reason for supporting this legislation, you are a fool.

3.) There WAS a much better way. Senator Bolkcom and the Senate Democrats have long had a proposal out there to offer commercial property tax cuts through a system of state credits. While this would not have fixed the whole tax system, it would have cut commercial property taxes while leaving local governments whole.

So the Legislature dealt a critical blow to Iowa City and Johnson County. Thanks to Senators Bolkcom and Dvorsky and Representatives Mascher, Lensing, and Jacoby for voting to protect local government!

*Property Tax Rates
         Lots of people like to lie about property tax rates in Johnson County, claiming, “they are some of the highest in the country!”

         Bullcrap! Here are the facts - 43 Iowa Counties have higher property tax rates than Johnson County, ranking Johnson 44 out of the 99 counties. (Source: Iowa State Association of Counties.)

         I’m going to run this every week in Salvos, just to be sure you remember it. So when somebody says otherwise, you can set them straight.

*Arts Fest
         One of the really great things about Iowa City is the series of summer festivals, run by the local nonprofit group SOTA (Summer of the Arts).

The Summer of the Arts really gets going this weekend with the Arts Fest. There are lots of great activities for all ages all weekend long. For details, see:

I honestly believe SOTA is one of the best things Iowa City has going for it. But beware! Much of SOTA’s funding comes from the Iowa City Council. I certainly hope the property tax cuts described earlier do not cost us Arts Fest, Jazz Fest, the Friday Night Concert Series, etc. Should that occur, you can thank the local Chamber of Commerce!

*DID YOU KNOW?  Just under half (47) of Iowa’s counties have less people than the city of North Liberty.

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

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