Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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June 20, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/24/14

In this edition:

*More on the CAFO
*Sales Tax Proposal
*Did You Know?

*More on the CAFO
         I realize now that I told you about the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) proposed for Johnson County, but I failed to tell you much in terms of what I think about it!

         The application was actually withdrawn, so the Board did not need to take any formal action. Yet we still listened to two hours of public testimony. (You can listen for yourself on the county website.)

I am generally a fan of individual rights. But that is contingent upon the exercise of those rights not causing others harm. Back in the 1800s a philosopher named John Finch said, “Your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.” I have always embraced a similar view.

         Once we have questions of conflicting “rights”, we have to weigh the rights of a landowner versus the rights of her/his neighbors. This is where government can become an exercise in philosophy; it is also why we need to elect thinking people at every level of government. Elected officials too often decide which “rights” to respect based upon who they know, or who is in the room. That is no good.

         Does a farmer’s right to raise noisy livestock outweigh the rights of a neighbor who is bothered by the noise? I have always felt it does. What if the same farmer is just cranking up amplified music? Now my sympathies lie with the neighbor. What about a barking dog? That area gets pretty grey.

         Does a farmer have a right to operate a smelly livestock operation? I think the answer is yes. Does she/he have the right to cause respiratory diseases in neighbors 2 miles away? My answer is no. Obviously, there is some grey area in between those two extremes as well.

         Does a neighbor have a right to a view? My contention has always been no; the property rights of neighbors outweigh your “right” to a view. That said, we HAVE adopted a downcast lighting ordinance, which protects you from neighbors shining lights on your property. The issues are similar, but I come down on different sides.

         How about water quality issues? I have always felt strongly here. Water does not respect property lines. Be it storm water or groundwater, I feel it is critical that we keep it clean. You cannot pollute only “your own” groundwater; water flows where it flows. So I’m for strict rules on pollution. Our collective rights clearly outweigh the rights of the individual in those cases.

         So – is there any way to run a 2500 head hog confinement without affecting the air and water quality of the neighbors? It may be possible, but I would argue that it is unlikely. And if it is unlikely that the rights of the neighbors can be ensured, then I do not think it should be built. In addition, the proposed operator has had manure management problems. The record is concerning. There is just no reason to believe this would turn out well.

         There are other issues – economic, animal welfare, etc. But as a County Supervisor, my primary concern is the overall well-being of the public. I do not see how this application could have met that standard.

         On a personal note – my family and I only buy meat from Lois Pavelka near Sutliff, New Pi, Nieman Ranch, Beeler, or others who raise animals to the standards we accept. Some on my left eat no meat at all; I respect that choice. Others don’t care about the origins of their meat. I would argue that the most effective way to avoid future battles over CAFOs is to convince more people to care about the origin of their meat. If there is no demand, there will be no supply.

*Sales Tax Proposal
         Iowa City is considering putting a local option sales tax (LOST) on the ballot in November.

The city formed a Local Option Sales Tax Exploratory Committee consisting of Tom Markus, Susan Mims, Eleanor Dilkes, Marian Karr, Simon Andrew, Cyndi Ambrose, and Dennis Bockenstedt. That committee submitted a 7-page report to the Iowa City Council in early June. The highlights:

1.) The vote would be held on the November General Election;
2.) Revenues in Iowa City would be split 60%property tax relief, 30% road repairs, and 10% affordable housing.

         Remember, Iowa City has the power to decide whether or not the whole county votes on a sales tax proposal. But individual cities (and the county) get to decide how the money is spent in their areas.

         The County has not discussed how sales tax revenue would be used. I am opposed to Iowa City’s current proposed plan for sales tax revenue.

While the affordable housing piece is great, sales taxes are our most regressive taxes. Using 60% of the money to offset property taxes is a direct subsidy to property owners. People who own property tend to be wealthier than those who do not. So people who are too poor to own property will now be subsidizing people who do. Plus, under the proposed plan, the higher your property tax bill, the bigger your tax relief. So wealthier folks benefit even more.

The only way I could ever support a sales tax increase is if the money was used extremely progressively. I could support this if it were 40% infrastructure, 40% affordable housing, 10% arts and culture, and 10% property tax relief. Or even removing the arts and culture and going to 20% property tax relief. But the proposed plan hurts the very people we are attempting to help.

In addition, I find it disturbing to read how concerned Iowa City is with “competition” from North Liberty and Coralville. The document produced by the committee mentioned “competition” or being “competitive” 7 times in 7 pages. I am fine with Iowa City being “competitive”, but should we not first determine in which areas we wish to be competitive? Are property tax rates our only concern? According to whom?

North Liberty has virtually no public transit and a volunteer fire department. Unless those things change, the tax rates are bound to be lower. But I reject the premise that the ONLY area in which cities “compete” is property tax rates.

         Iowa City is “competitive” in that it is a cool place to live. If Iowa City really feels the need to “compete” in terms of retail, do something major at either the Dodge or Dubuque Street exits. But property tax rates do not determine competitiveness.

For one, no new industry is going to pay property taxes, anyway – wherever they locate, the municipality will rebate any property taxes (including those that would otherwise accrue to schools and the county). Secondly, I know zero residential taxpayers who chose where to live based upon property tax rates. So why is Iowa City so worried?

My advice to IC would be if you feel the need to “compete”, do so based upon your AAA Bond Rating, walkability/bikeability, and wonderful amenities.

It hurts to be opposed to a plan that helps to fund affordable housing. But asking the poor to pay more is not the way to go. Besides, inclusionary zoning would get better results and cost taxpayers zero. I get tired of hearing we “can’t”. I know I’ve been pushing it unsuccessfully for 20 years, but I’m not interested in giving up.

         So – what do you think? Do you support a local option sales tax? Under what circumstances?

*DID YOU KNOW?  Islam is full of writings on “the rights of neighbors”. These laws are really duties that each person has to their neighbors, and they are extensive!

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

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