Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 3, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     10/7/14

In this edition:

*Run For The Schools
*Center for Worker Justice
*Public/Private Partnership
*Did You Know?

         Homecoming is the week of October 10 & 11. I love Homecoming! Even if you are not a football fan, there are many great activities taking place. A complete list can be found here:

I urge you to throw on some black and gold and have a good time! Go Hawks!

*Run For The Schools
         The Run For The Schools is coming up on Sunday, October 19. There is still time for you to register, donate, or both.

         Visit: for more information.

*Center for Worker Justice
         Hopefully you have heard of the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ). I have written about this group in previous editions of Salvos. I am really pleased that we have this group doing such important work in our community.

         Whether you know them or not, I urge you to visit their website at:

         In addition, here is a 30 minute PATV video that tells you more about the good work of the CWJ:

*Public/Private Partnership
         Johnson County has been discussing a new Ambulance and Medical Examiner facility for some time now. Both departments need additional garage and office space.

         When searching for a location, we have been targeting our current facilities building at the northwest corner of Clinton and Benton streets. The county owns about a third of an acre there already, and there may be an opportunity to buy a bit more land to increase the size of the lot. (The current lot is large enough, however.)

I came up with an idea a while back, and I think it holds great promise for Johnson County. There has been very little press coverage of this discussion, but I believe it is a critical decision.

Rather than simply building a building estimated at around $3 million, I suggested that Johnson County put out a request for proposals (RFP) for a public/private partnership on the parcel.

Given Iowa City’s plan for the area, I think there is tremendous potential to partner with a developer who would build a building that would suit the county’s needs, and then put 3-7 floors of apartments and/or condos above it.

Iowa City and Coralville have both done projects of this type. Jeff Davidson from the City of Iowa City has been extremely helpful in answering questions. From my preliminary conversations, it seems that Iowa City would like to see this happen.

The benefits to a private developer are obvious – she or he now has access to a prime lot in the River Crossings District. The site will easily hold 50 living units. Just for easy math, let’s say our partner gets $1000/month for 50 units. That is $600,000 annually. While I understand that this is not purely profit, it is pretty conceivable that one could pay off a $6 million mortgage over 15 years. After the building is paid off, even more of that becomes profit. I’m sure the numbers will work out a bit differently, but you get the idea.

Iowa City envisions a 5-10 story building on that corner some day; why not give the city what it wants? The market may not be there quite yet, but it is coming. And we know it is coming. A new building is going up on the former Mumm’s site. A new building is going up on the former Davin site. A new building is going up on the former Sabin school site. Each of these is within three blocks. Vacancy rates in Iowa City are less that one percent. By the time something gets built, it will get filled!

         Supervisor Etheredge and I support the RFP. Supervisors Harney and Rettig are opposed. Supervisor Neuzil is opposed, but chose to allow the RFP to go forward. So this idea lives by the slimmest of margins!

         The benefits of this type of relationship could be many:

         Cost to taxpayers: Rather than spending $3 million to build, the county can get a building for free or at very low cost. Why wouldn’t we try to save that money? It is a no-brainer!

         Riverfront Crossings: A single story building in that area will be an albatross. We must exercise some vision. In thirty years, do we want to be remembered for doing just enough? Or do we want to be remembered as having had vision?

         Urban density: Iowa City does not need another single story building. That helps to produce urban sprawl. We need to be going up, not out. Living units at this site will be easily walkable and bikeable to every amenity.

         Affordable housing: I believe affordable housing is the most critical problem facing Johnson County. This project would give us an opportunity to address that problem. We have been given a tremendous asset – valuable land. Don’t we have some moral obligation to put that asset to work addressing our biggest issue? Even if we do not put any affordable housing in the project, increasing the supply of market rate housing will help to keep rents down.

         Increased tax base: Every taxing entity (including Johnson County) would benefit financially from several floors of housing, which would all be taxable. A single story county building will produce ZERO new property taxes now and in perpetuity.

So obviously, I see many benefits to this arrangement. I simply cannot imagine why any of my fellow Supervisors are opposed. The two biggest concerns I have heard are 1.) We do not want the problems associated with managing a building; and 2.) The RFP process will delay the building.

         I think there are very simple responses to those concerns. First, I would never suggest that the county do the property management. Either our private partner would do that, or we would hire it done. Johnson County has at least 15 property management companies we could hire. That is what most rental property owners do. So this argument is a red herring.

         I am also not overly concerned by the idea of a delay. I believe most Johnson County taxpayers would trade a delay in the building for a multi-million dollar savings. I have spoken with the Ambulance Director, and he is willing to put a new building on hold in order to pursue this. He is our expert, and he believes we can make things work for a while. I agree with him. And we are pretty resourceful – we’ve needed a jail for almost 30 years, and we have managed to adapt. A one or two year delay here would clearly be worth $3 million plus future tax revenues.

         As you can tell, I am a big fan of this approach. I hope you are, too! If so, please share your thoughts with the other Supervisors. Support for this project could not be more tenuous! Unless you can convince additional Supervisors to support this idea, it is over!

*DID YOU KNOW?  The University of Iowa has celebrated Homecoming annually since 1912.

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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