Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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September 18, 2015

Sullivan’s Salvos     9/22/15

In this edition:

*RIP Emma
*Solon Minimum Wage
*Congratulations, Bill Greazel!
*About The Assessor’s Office
*Welcome, Tom Van Buer!
*Did You Know?

*RIP Emma
         Our dog Emma died last week at age 11. It was absolutely heartbreaking. While it came as a bit of a shock, at least she went quickly and with little pain.

         If you have pets, you get it. Our household is pretty broken up right now. And this comes at a terrible time; as recent empty nesters, we didn’t need our faithful pet to go, too.

         RIP, Emma. We miss you!

*Solon Minimum Wage
         I was very disappointed to see Solon become the first municipality in US history to lower the minimum wage. That sounds kind of bad, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I really think this is a black eye for the town.

         Though Solon is extremely wealthy over all (the second wealthiest school district in Iowa), we know there are poor folks there. The Solon United Methodist Church has a food pantry. 68 people from Solon used the Crisis Center Food Bank last year. Solon Schools have kids who get free and reduced lunch. Poverty may not be big or visible in Solon, but it does exist.

         In addition, a higher minimum wage would have helped the very restaurants that complained. Poor people tend to spend their money locally. If Solon’s poor folks had a few more bucks in their pockets, they would be likely to spend it at those businesses.

I have heard some folks talk about a boycott of Solon. Remember, readers: not EVERY restaurant owner complained about this! I urge you not to punish innocent bystanders. Big Grove Brewery, Salt Fork Kitchen, and Frida Kahlo, to name just a few, pay their people well and did not complain about the County ordinance. Please patronize them!

The process seemed a bit ugly, too. They held one single reading of the ordinance, and had no comment from Councilors. They heard from several restaurant owners, but no restaurant workers.

All that said, Solon enjoys Home Rule Authority. They can pass anything they want. If folks like the results, they can reelect this council. If they don’t like the results, they can elect someone else. That is the way the process works.

*Congratulations, Bill Greazel!
         Johnson County Assessor Bill Greazel is retiring after serving in the Assessor’s Office since 1973.

         As you probably know, the job of the Assessor is a tough one. You go out and look at a property – farm, home, business, whatever – and decide how much it is worth. This is the process of valuing property. Those valuations are then taken times the levy rates of the various taxing entities to determine how much tax is owed. As you might imagine, folks often feel that their assessed values (and therefore their taxes) are too high.

         So the Assessor takes a lot of heat. To do the job well, an individual must be smart, honest, accurate, uncompromising, and unshakable. Bill Greazel has all of these attributes in spades!

         I really like Bill. He is intelligent, funny, genuine, caring, and he has served me as a mentor of sorts. I learned a LOT about county government from Bill!

         In addition, Bill has been the most innovative of Iowa’s 100+ assessors. He went paperless (everything is done on Ipads) years ago; his office no longer stores a bunch of paper. And you can go online to the county’s website and look up properties any time of day. These were both Bill’s doing.

Not only is Bill a great guy and an innovator, but he gets results. I simply cannot say enough good things about the performance of the Assessor’s Office under Bill. The Iowa Department of Revenue has a couple different measures of accuracy for assessors. In my 11 years of reviewing this data, the Johnson County Assessor’s Office has been third once in one category; otherwise, we have ranked #1 or #2 in both categories all eleven years.

         Basically, the statistics are clear: the Johnson County Assessor’s Office is the best in the state. You should be proud of this! This means you are not paying too much relative to your neighbor, and not paying too little. Things here are fair – the fairest in Iowa. And the guy to thank is Bill Greazel.

         If you want to stop by and wish Bill good riddance, a retirement reception is being held Friday, September 25 from 1-4 PM in the Betty Sass Room at the County Admin Building.

*About The Assessor’s Office
Assessors are appointed to their position by a Conference Board consisting of the members of the Board of Supervisors, the Mayors of all incorporated cities and a member from each school district within the jurisdiction. (A city with a population of ten thousand or more may elect to have their own assessor Iowa City does this.)

Assessors are required, by statute, to pass a state examination and complete a Continuing Education Program consisting of 150 hours of formal classroom instruction with 90 hours tested and a passing grade of 70% attained. The latter requirement must be met in order for the assessor to be reappointed to the position every six years. The Deputy Assessor also must pass a state examination as well as successfully complete 90 hours of classroom instruction of which at least 60 hours are tested. The Conference Board approves the assessor's budget, including salaries. The assessor is limited, by statute, depending upon the value of the jurisdiction, to a levy limitation for the budget.

         Filling a vacancy in the Assessor’s Office is a fairly bizarre process. There is a three-person panel created called the Examining Board. Each entity appoints a member – the County appointed State Representative (and former Supervisor) Sally Stutsman. The cities appointed former Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett. The schools appointed former ICCSD Board Member Al Leff.

         The Examining Board sent a letter notifying the Iowa Department of Revenue that there was an opening; the DOR then notifies every person who is up to date with their Iowa licensure.

         Of that group, six people applied – three Assessors and three Deputy Assessors. The Examining Board interviewed three people, and forwarded one name to the Conference Board. The Conference Board came to terms with that individual, and he begins October 1st.

         Seems like a lot of extra steps, doesn’t it? I must say that while I certainly trust Sally Stutsman, I would have preferred to be involved in the interviews myself. We have a strong desire to recruit women and minorities; because of the way this is done, that was largely out of our hands. (A woman was interviewed, however.) We do not go through our typical HR processes. And the time frames are extremely tight; you cannot have a gap, nor can you have overlap.

         The process is pretty goofy. I would suggest that the Iowa Legislature look at the process, but the Iowa House would just screw it up. So it is what it is.

*Welcome Tom Van Buer!
         The Johnson County Conference Board named Tom Van Buer as the new Johnson County Assessor, effective October 1.

         Tom comes to the office with over 24 years of experience appraising all types of real estate. He has worked in both the private and public sectors, most recently serving as the Deputy Assessor for the City of Dubuque. Tom and his family live in Clinton, where his wife is a teacher, and they have been very involved in the community. (Tom has been President of the Jaycees, Lions, Clinton Band Boosters, and Prince of Peace Parrish! An impressive list of community activities!)

         Tom has VERY big shoes to fill; we know that. Meanwhile, I am committed to helping him keep the Johnson County Assessor’s Office at the very top. I welcome Tom and his family to Johnson County!

*DID YOU KNOW?  Johnson County is home to $7 billion in assessed property, fourth highest in Iowa. And that does not include any nonprofit or government land and buildings, all of which is untaxed! (Source: Iowa Department of Management.)

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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