The Smell Test: Fact-checking Iowa House 77 claims

Challenger focuses on Johnson County spending

Steve Sherman, a North Liberty business owner running for a new seat in the Iowa House of Representatives against longtime Johnson County Supervisor Sally Stutsman, has made county spending a campaign issue.

“Interesting Fact about Johnson County Iowa!,” Sherman wrote July 13 on his Facebook page, Sherman in the House.

“Fiscal Year 2007 Expenditures were $53.8 Million. Fiscal Year 2011 were $100.2 Million! The Supervisors oversaw this doubling...can they explain what we got for it? Oh yeah, and that is before the talk about $50,000,000 new jail that we need.”

The Smell Test decided to check these numbers to see if Johnson County budgets had really gone up that much over the past five years and, if so, why?

Annual financial reports submitted to the Iowa Department of Management, , show the county’s actual spending as follows:

  • Fiscal 2007: $53.8 million
  • Fiscal 2008: $59.6 million
  • Fiscal 2009: $85.6 million
  • Fiscal 2010: $77.5 million
  • Fiscal 2011: $75.6 million

While Johnson County spending did not double, it did increase by nearly 60 percent from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2009. Johnson County's fiscal 2007 actual spending is available on the fiscal 2009 state report (story continues below embedded document):

Johnson County Fiscal 2009 Budget


“It’s all capital projects,” said Rich Claiborne, Johnson County’s budget coordinator. “It’s not like the board went spending crazy.”

The county’s biggest expenditure in recent years was the Joint Emergency Communications Center, opened in 2010 in Iowa City. The county issued $15 million in bonds for the center, which provides dispatch for all of the county’s law enforcement agencies.

Johnson County built a $14 million Health and Human Services Building in 2009 to consolidate nine agencies.

In 2008, the county also built a $3.1 million building and garage shared by the Secondary Roads Department and SEATS, the paratransit service.

Sherman, a 42-year-old fiction writer who sells Wick agricultural buildings in central Iowa, used the state financial report for the information he posted on Facebook. But he didn’t report the right number.

For fiscal 2011, Sherman said the county spent $100.2 million. This was listed in the line item “Total Expenditures & Other Uses,” which includes money transferred between county accounts during the year. These transfers, some state-mandated and others that control cash flow, are noted both in the expenditures and revenues, indicating the money was not spent.

“That’s simply money moving between funds,” said Carrie Johnson, a fiscal policy analyst for the Department of Management.

The correct number, included as “Subtotal Expenditures,” excludes the transfers, Johnson said. That figure for fiscal 2011 was $75.8 million.


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Sherman is right about one thing: The fiscal 2011 budget did not include the proposed justice center.

The county will ask voters in November to approve a $46.8 million bond issue to fund the $48.1 million center, which would replace the crowded jail with a facility that includes courtrooms, 243 jail beds and administrative space. The county would cover the remaining $1.3 million beyond the bond.

Our score:

While Johnson County’s expenditures have increased dramatically in recent years, they didn’t double over five years as Sherman said. Even at the spending high point of fiscal 2009, when the county was in the midst of two major building projects, expenditures were well below the $100 million Sherman quoted.

The county’s budget fell 12 percent between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2011.

County expenditures may still be a good campaign issue for Sherman as he faces Stutsman, who weighed in on these building projects, but he needs to get his numbers straight. We rate his statement mostly false.



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