Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 3, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     1/7/14

In this edition:

*Happy New Year!
*Campaign Promises
*Property Tax Rates
*Property Tax Rates, Part Two
*Did You Know?

*Happy New Year!
         Welcome to 2014! Let’s make this the best year ever!

*Campaign Promises
         I may be crazy for doing this, but I thought I’d take a look back at the platform I ran on when seeking reelection in 2012. I am now one year into that 4-year term; let’s see how I am doing. I listed 5 goals for this term:

Goal: Work with cities for sensible TIF usage.

Results: This is a pretty tough lift. After the Governor’s huge commercial tax cuts, cities have few other places to look for revenue. Cities have zero incentive to do anything else. And when a city and the county go head to head, the county ALWAYS loses. Legislators have priorities, and those are cities, not counties. The task is convincing city leaders that county government matters. Obviously, this will require ongoing work.

Goal: Improve rural housing conditions.

Results: Nothing like choosing easy goals, huh? While this problem remains daunting, there actually have been some significant improvements made on this front. First, the Health Department adopted a new and improved Health Nuisance Ordinance, which covers many of the health issues we found in our run down housing. While this doesn’t accomplish everything our failed Property Maintenance Ordinance would have addressed, it has made a measurable improvement in many properties. Secondly, the County has twice spent $20,000 with the Housing Trust Fund to identify and address serious home improvement needs. This has resulted in key life safety improvements to several rural residences, mostly mobile homes. Finally, the cities of North Liberty, Coralville, and Iowa City have agreed to join the County in looking at affordable housing issues countywide. This could well be the biggest victory of all! So, while much work remains, some very good things have occurred.

Goal: Increased support for Human Services.
Results: While the actual dollar amount going toward human services has not increased, it has not decreased, either. Given the aforementioned commercial tax cuts, this may be the best we are able to do. There was another big positive, of course – the County sold the old Public Health Building to the Crisis Center for $1, kicking off the 1105 Project. I’m extremely proud of my role in that endeavor!

Goal: Improve Affirmative Action results.
Results: If you walk into a County building, you will either find someone who speaks your language, or an employee can hook you up to a telephone translator. That is pretty cool! The County now has a Diversity Committee, which is succeeding in bringing some new voices into the conversation. We have several ideas to implement, and Diversity has been included as a goal in the County’s Strategic Plan. That said, the employment numbers still have a long ways to go. Johnson County is about 80% Caucasian, but our workforce is closer to 97%. We’ll continue to work on that.

Goal: Improve race relations.
Results: Another easy one! The County Attorney, Sheriff, and Jail Diversion staffs have begun greater outreach to minority communities. I am an original member of the Coalition for Racial Justice, which has the possibility of being a huge asset to local governments down the road. As you might imagine, much work remains.

         So, those are the results as I see them. Obviously, it takes 3 votes to get anything done on the Board of Supervisors; I find myself on the losing end of far too many 3-2 votes. That said, part of the job is convincing your colleagues to join you in voting for the things you think are important. I still have work to do on that front.

What are your thoughts? You are the ultimate judges as to whether or not we have achieved any successes. I look forward to your comments!

*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!”

         Bull! 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 have not mentioned this in quite some time, but it bears repeating. Misinformation abounds. Now YOU have the correct information, so when somebody says otherwise, you can set her straight.

*Property Tax Rates, Part Two
         A friend recently sent me the following interactive map from the Brookings Institution:

         You can click on any county in the US, then see where that county ranks in terms of several property tax metrics. I found this really fun!

         While the map is fascinating, it deserves greater explanation. For one, we need to once again stress that the biggest factor in high property taxes is valuable property. An apartment building in Manhattan is worth a lot more than a mobile home 200 miles from Albuquerque. Because it is worth much more, it will pay much more.

Secondly, these taxes include all taxing jurisdictions. So totals include cities, schools, counties, community colleges, and a couple more tiny levies. When I discuss our levy rates, I focus on the county rates. This makes sense, as those are the only rates over which I have control.

Thirdly, different states have different ways of funding local governments. There are places with low property tax rates, but quality services – these locales rely more on income and/or sales taxes. Or certain states might fund things that are county-funded in other states. So comparisons are probably best within states.

Finally, some states (and counties) fund very few services, period! In Iowa, for example, counties vary wildly in the amount they spend on Public Health. While Johnson County spends almost $4 million, some counties spend under $100,000. Personally, I am willing to fund Public Health. From what I’ve heard, so are most of my constituents.

         So how did Johnson County rank? Average home value = $180,200. Home value rank = 537 (out of about 3,100). Average taxes paid = $2649. Taxes paid rank = 258 (out of about 3,100). Taxes as a share of value = 1.47%. Takes as share of value rank = 555 (out of about 3,100).

         There is much to digest there. Suffice to say, I am extremely comfortable with the tax rates in Johnson County. If you would like to discuss this in greater detail, just give me a call.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Property taxes in the US date to the very earliest Colonial times. By 1796, state and local governments in fourteen of the 15 states taxed land.

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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