Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 10, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     10/14/14

In this edition:

*Public Private Partnership (Follow Up)
*Conservatives, Liberals, and Property Taxes
*Courthouse Tours
*”Divide” By Matt Taibbi
*Did You Know?

*Public Private Partnership (Follow Up)
         I wrote last week about a proposed public-private partnership for land owned by Johnson County.

The Board voted no on the proposed public-private partnership. The vote was 3-2, with Neuzil, Harney, and Rettig voting no, Sullivan and Etheredge voting yes.

So this vote means we aren’t even going to ask for ideas. This Board decided it does not need to request input. Now we miss out on:

1.) An immediate savings in to taxpayers in terms of lower building costs;

2.) Increased residential property taxes, a long-term benefit to taxpayers;

3.) An opportunity to put a significant amount of affordable housing near downtown;

4.) An opportunity to grow up rather than out, thereby reducing urban sprawl.

I think this is the single most disappointing vote in my ten years on the Board.

*Conservatives, Liberals, and Property Taxes
Supervisors received a letter recently that really has me thinking. I have spoken to all sorts of people about it, and I have gotten all different types of feedback.

         Here is the situation: a retired gentleman has $1200 monthly income from Social Security, and a $600 monthly pension. He wrote to complain that he cannot afford his $4000 annual property tax bill, and requested relief from the county.

         Without naming names, I mentioned this situation to two friends that I’ll label as “conservative”. One of them said, “Tough luck. If you cannot afford your taxes, move.” The other chose to focus on local governments, and said, “See? Taxes are just too high!”

         Then I spoke to three people that I will label as “liberal”. One suggested granting him tax relief. Another thought we should change the property tax system. The third said he should look into a reverse mortgage.

         I can see pros and cons in each of these arguments. While my friend who said, “move” was not exactly a model of compassion, I have to believe she was right. A person with a $4000 annual tax bill must have a $200,000 home. Perhaps our letter writer should sell his $200,000 house, and purchase a $100,000 condo. Perhaps he should sell, then rent a place. Whatever the case, while his income is low, he has a significant asset that many people lack.

         As for property taxes being too high… I have written at length about this. I happen to believe local property tax rates are quite fair. One irony is that this person’s residential property taxes undoubtedly increased as a direct result of Iowa’s commercial property tax cut – something conservatives pushed.

         Of my two “conservative” friends, I tend to agree more with the first. A common theme among conservatives is personal responsibility, and frankly, personal responsibility is a difficult thing with which to argue. Greater personal responsibility would obviously be a good thing. And it seems to fit in this case.

         My “liberal” friend who wanted to go straight to tax relief really frustrated me. We do not just waive taxes. Taxation simply MUST be fair, or there will not be faith in the system. If we waived taxes for this guy, shouldn’t we also waive them for everyone who makes less? And if we did so, how could we possibly afford to provide all the necessary governmental services?

         The second “liberal” had a complex solution to the problem: lower property tax rates for retirees, and raise them on everyone else. I’ll be frank – I HATE this idea! First, it would require State action. Secondly, it is complex and confusing. But most importantly - I spoke earlier about the importance of taxes being “fair”. I believe fairness is critical. Every $200,000 residential property in Johnson County should be assessed at $200,000, and every $200,000 residential property should pay the same amount in taxes. It should be based on the property – NOT who lives in the property.

         I believe this is an increasingly large problem with our income taxes; income should be taxed at the same rate, regardless of the source. While it feels good to cut taxes for veterans, seniors, etc. – we should all pay the same tax rates. $50,000 in salary should be taxed at the same rate as $50,000 in pension, which should be taxed at the same rate as $50,000 in investment income. Income is income. Tax it the same. We have gotten away from this, and it has become a huge problem. I do not want to see property taxes go the same direction.

I like the approach of the third “liberal”. Let’s try to solve the problem. A reverse mortgage may be the right answer. Perhaps the letter writer could take in a renter. Different housing is certainly an option. Maybe he would be interested in working part time. A financial planner might be able to help him budget his money better. There are lots of potential solutions here besides waiving taxes – let’s consider them. Why is the rush straight to Johnson County? Did he ask MidAmerican to lower his gas and electric rates?

         I found it quite interesting that 5 different friends had 5 different responses to this letter. I’m not even certain that is a “conservative” or “liberal” way in which to view the issue. I just know that I have very strong opinions on tax policy. So, I’m curious: what are YOUR thoughts?

*Courthouse Tours
         As you know, Johnson County residents are being asked to vote on a courthouse annex. In preparation, the Clerk of Court and County Attorney are offering tours of the existing facility.

Tours are open to any interested person, but you must first register at Tours are on Wednesdays at 4:00 pm on October 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.

         I urge you take a tour; more importantly, please vote!

*Divide By Matt Taibbi
         I recently finished a new book entitled “Divide” by Matt Taibbi. You may know Taibbi from his work in Rolling Stone; he is well known for calling it like he sees it.

         The story behind Divide is quite simple. In present day America, there are two systems of justice: one for the poor, whose poverty is punished; and one for the rich, whose wealth is rewarded.

         Taibbi contrasts stories of poor people done wrong by the system, and huge multinational companies whose crimes go unpunished. More importantly, he points out how these results are becoming institutionalized within our bureaucracies. Unless we act now and act dramatically, a two-tiered system of justice is here to stay.

         Divide by Matt Taibbi is available at local libraries and bookstores. Check it out!

*DID YOU KNOW?  The current courthouse was completed in 1901, when the population of Johnson County was about 25,000.

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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