Linn County supervisors pass ordinance to increase minimum wage

Rate to reach $10.25 by 2019, but some cities may opt out

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County has become the second in Iowa to approve a minimum wage higher than the state and federal rate. But it remains to be seen if the county’s largest cities are on board.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Monday, to establish an ordinance that will raise the minimum wage in Linn County to $8.25 on Jan. 1, with only District 5 Supervisor John Harris voting in opposition. With three annual increases, the wage will reach $10.25 on Jan. 1, 2019.

“It’s a historic day for Linn County and, I would say, certainly for workers,” said District 3 Supervisor Ben Rogers, who proposed the ordinance earlier this year.

With the first increase less than four months away, the clock now is ticking for the county’s various councils. The individual councils can go along with the ordinance’s increases — by essentially doing nothing — or they can pass a counter-ordinance that would establish a different minimum wage within that jurisdiction.

The three largest communities — Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha — are home to about 173,000, or 80 percent, of the county’s more than 215,000 residents.

While Hiawatha’s City Council has expressed support for the ordinance, councils in Marion and Cedar Rapids seem more split.

“I hear that Marion may not pass this, that the city of Cedar Rapids may only do one year,” District 4 Supervisor Brent Oleson said. “I think that’s sad for the people in those communities that are working hard.”

Rogers also noted the importance of city participation. Without that, the ordinance loses much of its impact, he said.

“I would recommend all residents who are passionate about this who want to see a minimum-wage increase in Linn County lobby Marion and Cedar Rapids,” Rogers said.

Harris, who represents most of the county’s smallest communities, said his vote against the ordinance was based on feedback he’s received from constituents. While most support a $1 increase, several have reservations with increasing it to $10.25, he said.

Meanwhile, some of the county’s businesses and economic development organizations have spoken out against the county’s ordinance.

In a Sept. 2 letter to the supervisors, representatives of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Marion Chamber of Commerce and Marion Economic Development Corp. (MEDCO) urged the board to push the state legislature to address the wage rather than take on the matter locally.

Officials said their organizations — which collectively represent more than 1,500 business members — have not taken a stance on whether or not the wage should be raised.

“We just would have hoped that the supervisors would have joined us in that push at addressing it at the state and federal level,” Jill Ackerman, Marion Chamber president, said Monday. “Wages set county by county or city by city just really creates uncertainty for businesses, and non-uniform wages just kind of wreaks havoc for small business owners.”

Nick Glew, MEDCO president, said a survey of his organization’s 127 local members found that respondents were almost evenly split on raising the minimum wage — 51 percent said they supported an increase.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of respondents said they felt the state should determine the minimum wage, while only 20 percent said the county should.

Lastly, 60 percent of respondents said having different minimum wages in different counties would create hardships for businesses.

Glew said, with Linn joining Johnson in Iowa counties with higher minimum-wage ordinances — and counties such as Polk, Wapello and Lee discussing similar moves — the state may have no choice but to take action on the issue.

“I think they’re going to have to, if they don’t we’re just going to create a business environment statewide that’s confusing for folks,” he said.

Linn County Minimum Wage Timeline

• Jan. 2016: The Linn County Board of Supervisors votes to create a working group to explore the pros and cons of a countywide minimum wage increase.

• March: Linn County’s minimum wage working group — which includes elected officials, residents and other vested individuals — holds its first meeting.

• June: In its third meeting, the working group votes to recommend Supervisors raise the minimum wage — from the state and federal rate of $7.25 an hour — to $8.25 in Jan. 2017.

• August: Supervisor Ben Rogers proposes three annual $1 increases to the minimum wage starting Jan. 1, 2017. Under the proposal, the minimum wage would reach $10.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019.

• August: The board votes 4-1, with Supervisor John Harris opposed, in favor of the Rogers’s proposal. Language that would have implemented future annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index’s Midwest region is removed by the board.

• September: The board passes the second and third readings of the ordinance. City councils now have to decide whether they wish to go with the ordinance or pass their own minimum wage ordinance within their jurisdictions.

Jan. 1, 2017: The first $1 increase will raise the Linn County minimum wage to $8.25 an hour.

Jan. 1, 2018: The minimum wage in Linn County will reach $9.25 an hour.

Jan. 1, 2019: Linn County’s minimum wage will reach $10.25 an hour.

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