Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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September 6, 2018

Sullivan’s Salvos     9/11/18

In this edition:

*Iowa City Council Special Election
*City Budgets
*The Green Room
*Did You Know?

         Unfortunately, we need to be concerned about flooding. Johnson County has already suffered through several flash floods, and the Reservoir is creeping up.

         To address this, Johnson County, Iowa City, and Coralville have written letters to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the governmental agency in charge of the Coralville Dam. We have requested that the outflow be raised in order to reduce the risk of floods in Johnson County.

         I was the Chair of the Board in 2008. I do not ever want to go through anything like that again! Please be safe, and take your own precautions. Meanwhile, we will keep you updated.

*Iowa City Council Special Election
         Iowa City had a barnburner of a Special Election to fill the seat left open when Kingsley Botchway moved out of town. Iowa City uses a system of Primary and General Elections, so the 5 candidates competing on Tuesday needed to make the top two in order to move on to the October 2ndGeneral.

         Ann Freerks finished first with 27% of the vote. Bruce Teague finished second with 20.6% of the vote, just 18 votes ahead of third place Christine Ralston. Brianna Wills was fourth, and Ryan Hall fifth. All in all, a very close race! So it is Freerks versus Teague on October 2nd. The winner is seated right away.

         Turnout in the Primary was just under 4000 votes, or 8.7%. Obviously, that number is abysmal. And the timing is horrible; we should all be working on the November election. I canvassed for the November election on the evening of the City Council election. Voters were confused. And that is NOT good! The whole situation is very frustrating.

         As always, thanks to the 5 candidates who stood for election. I appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there!

*City Budgets
         I am of the belief that local City Councils artificially maintain lower budgets than their citizens want. Let me take a few minutes to explain the process, and to explain how this happens.

         City budgets are created by the City Manager/Administrator. He (ours are all “he”) brings a completed budget to the City Council. The Councils can and do change it, but usually not substantially.

         What are the goals of the City Manager/Administrator when creating the budget? 1. Don’t spend more than you take in. 2. Don’t cut any popular services. 3. If possible, lower the levy rate.

         Goal number one is just common sense. Goal number two? Well, if you want to keep the public happy, you don’t cut popular services/programs. Citizens like public services.

         Goal number three? This is where it gets interesting. Cities are competitive. They want to be able to advertise the lowest property taxes in the area. That is fine on one hand, but what are the implications? If you are always striving to have the lowest levy rate, you aren’t going to have the money to make needed investments in transit, affordable housing, parks, etc.

         I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many residential property owners who made their decision about where to live exclusively on the basis of the tax rate. They may think about the overall cost of living. But most folks consider literally dozens of factors (location, schools, bedrooms, yard, distance to work, etc.) ahead of the city’s levy rate. So the cities’ overemphasis on levy rate is misplaced.

         What about commercial property tax payers, you ask? ICAD has polled local businesses on this many times. Levy rates barely break into the top ten reasons for choosing where to locate your business. Workforce availability, workforce training, roads, internet, airports, etc. all matter much more than property tax rates. What’s more, imagine for a second that Apple or Google wants to open up in the area. They are going to get a property tax rebate – it doesn’t matter which city they are in. They will never pay the rate anyway.

         So why the emphasis on lower rates? Well, it looks really good on the resumes of the City Managers/Administrators. Would you rather be able to say, “Our rates went up and down,” or, “I lowered tax rates 5 straight years.” It is a no-brainer from a staff perspective. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t see this as unethical in any way. If you can make it happen, it is just smart. Heck, I’d like to be able to say it. But our growth and human needs in this county just haven’t allowed it.

         But really, the main culprit is inertia. City Managers/Administrators tend to do what their councils tell them to do. But Councils give these folks VERY few marching orders before they prepare the budget. And once it is done, the clock is ticking. Big changes equate to lots of work. Big changes just don’t happen.

         In Iowa City, one penny on the levy rate raises about $60,000. That can pay the salary of a staff person. It would more than outfit a brand new police vehicle. It would be a significant contribution to a social services agency. 

         What does that one cent cost me? Well, this is a very rough estimate, without figuring in rollbacks… My house is valued at $175,000. At one cent per $1000 assessed value, I would pay an additional $1.75. In many cases, I would be willing to do that. So would a lot of local residents.

         On the other hand, there may be spending happening that you feel is unwise or unnecessary. If this is the case, speak up! It is entirely possible that your Councilors are unaware of the situation.

         Want to make meaningful change to your city’s budget? Staff starts putting together the budget in September. If you want something, talk to your Council in May. And ask them to have a multi-evening public discussion about budget goals.

*The Green Room
In the fall of 2016, 30 honor students gathered in the Adler Journalism Building for the first day of class. Lining the classroom walls were six quotes, each with the author’s name removed. Under each quote were five chairs. As the students entered the room they were asked to read the quotations and sit beneath the words that resonated most. Unbeknownst to them, the author of the quote they selected would become the person they would host on campus that semester. The course is called The Green Room.

The Green Room is based on a series of questions: How does a community become smarter… employ that knowledge to uplift the lives of its residents… join with other cities and towns across the country… and collectively change the world? 

The class also seeks to reimagine the term "College Town" by inviting the community to sit in on an undergraduate lecture series and participate in reflective activities that are geared toward fostering community enhancement and engagement. The experience has been described as “less like a traditional classroom discussion and more like a TED talk, combined with an episode of The Moth: Radio Hour, combined with a late-night discussion over coffee with 500 close friends.” 

Monday, September 17th, 7:00 pm @ Englert Theatre
Peter Aguero, Moth host and storyteller & Sara Peters, journalist.

Featured nonprofit: Iowa Harm Reduction Center (IHRC)

Facebook event link to share:

*DID YOU KNOW? The last Iowa City Council Special Election was July 13, 1993. Bruno Pigott defeated Kathy Moyers 53-47.

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

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

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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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