Voters approve Linn County conservation bond

Board of Supervisors to be reduced from five to three members

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Linn County voters overwhelmingly approved a $40 million conservation bond on Tuesday.

They also voted, by a much smaller margin, decreasing the number of county supervisors from five to three members.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial results show more than 74 percent of 99,983 voters — or 73,899 — voted yes on the 20-year general obligation bond. The measure needed a supermajority, or 60 percent, to pass.

The ballot measure to reduce the number of supervisors needed only a simple majority, which it obtained, with a 51 percent majority.

Election results aren’t final until votes are canvassed next week.

CONSERVATION BOND

Supporters of the bond said late Tuesday they were “ecstatic” about the results.

“Everyone knows our rivers are impaired,” Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said. “They know because of this last flood event that we need to do something about water storage just as much as water quality.”

The county conservation bond, according to ballot language, will use the money to fund projects that protect sources of drinking water and the water quality of rivers and streams, as well as to protect and acquire land for natural floodwater storage.

“All the projects, regardless of what bucket you cut them into, they’re really designed ... to enhance water quality and reduce and mitigate flooding,” said Hillary Hughes, a member of the Linn County Conservation Board, which will manage the funds.

Potential projects include wetland development and protection along several Linn County waterways — including the Cedar River, Wapsipinicon River, Morgan Creek and Buffalo Creek — as well as the acquisition of wetland areas.

“I know it’s not sexy — it’s literally a tall grass marshy area,” Hughes said. “But these are what make a difference because wetlands are what store that water during a high water event.”

THREE-MEMBER BOARD

Assuming the close vote holds up, the Tuesday vote would reduce the five-member Linn County Board of Supervisors to three members.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors expanded to five members, from three members, just 10 years ago, in an effort to give rural county residents a voice on the board.

But Kevin Kula, a rural Coggon resident who spearheaded a petition leading to the ballot question, said the larger board didn’t offer better representation and is costing county taxpayers too much money.

Each supervisor is expected to earn nearly $104,000 in 2017.

“I don’t think there’s enough work for three, let alone five,” Kula said.

Supervisor Oleson, who represents Marion and some rural areas, said the referendum’s approval means a vote next year on whether to keep district representation or return to at-large seats.

He said he worries an at-large, three-member board will “most likely be dominated by three Democrats in Cedar Rapids.”

Supervisor Ben Rogers, who represents a Cedar Rapids district, said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“We already have the experience of knowing how three members represent the county, and I felt the county was better served with five,” Rogers said. “But the voters have spoken, and we’ll start the redistricting process.”

Gazette reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this report.

For all of The Gazette's Election 2017 coverage, please visit our election coverage center.

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