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Wind turbine opponents force vote on enlarging Tama County supervisors
Backer: More officials could help ‘county make better decisions’
In a question placed on the ballot by a group calling for a moratorium on wind energy and solar farms, Tama County voters will decide next month whether to increase the number of county supervisors from three to five.
The Tama County Against Turbines group gathered more than 1,000 signatures earlier this year, as required by law. At least 908 signatures were required based on how many people in Tama County voted in the last presidential election.
Tama County Against Turbines is a group of residents who have been speaking since April at Tama County Board of Supervisors meetings during public comments, calling for a moratorium on permitting any new industrial wind or solar projects in the county until the county has updated its ordinances governing them.
Its wind energy ordinance has not been updated since 1998, during which time turbine technology has changed significantly, said Kathy Krafka Harkema, communication director for Tama County Against Turbines.
The current ordinance allows for wind turbines to be 1,000 feet away from a home, or two times the turbine height — which can be up to 650 feet tall, or the equivalent of a building of over 50 stories.
The group, which has more than 1,200 members, “believe it’s important to preserve the land for future and current generations” and wants to bring “additional viewpoints” to the board of supervisors, Krafka Harkema said.
“We think having more supervisors who have closer contact with their constituents could help the county make better decisions,” Krafka Harkema said. “We’ll let the voters decide if they want to have more voices throughout the county representing them.”
Lucas Beenken, public policy specialist with the Iowa State Association of Counties, said population does not dictate how many supervisors each county has — it’s up to voters to decide how they want to be represented.
The majority of Iowa counties — 61 out of 99 — have three supervisors. Out of the top largest 10 counties by population, six have five supervisors and four have three — including Linn County.
“Oftentimes, folks think larger counties have five supervisors and small, rural counties have three, but that’s not the case,” Beenken said.
In Linn County, voters in 2016 agreed to expanded the board from three to five members. But 10 years later, voters changed their minds. Upset partly because Linn County supervisors’ pay exceeded $100,000 a year for the first time, voters in 2016 reduced the board back down to three members. Linn supervisors earn $124,967 a year now.
Earlier this year, Linn supervisors voted 2-1 after contentious public meetings to approve three utility-grade solar installations near Coggon and Palo. This month, all three voted to place a moratorium on approving large solar projects at least through the end of the year while an ordinance governing them is updated.
If the Tama County measure passes, all five of its supervisor seats would be up for election in November 2024. Before then, a redistricting commission would draw up maps for the five equal-population districts.
The supervisors would essentially “draw straws” for which seat would initially be a two-year term and which will be a four-year term to stagger elections, Beenken said. After that time, each seat would be a four-year term.
Supervisors in Tama County are paid $34,643 each. Beenken said at this salary level, residents shouldn’t get too concerned about the cost of two additional supervisors, which would only be one-half of 1 percent of the budget, he said.
The last time the county had five supervisors was in the 1930s, said Tama County Auditor Laura Kopsa. She does not know why residents voted to reduce the number of supervisors to three at the time. Tama County’s population is about 17,000.
The county’s current supervisors are Larry Vest, who has been a supervisor for 28 years and is not running for re-election this year; Dan Anderson, who has been a supervisor since 2012 and whose term also is up for re-election in 2024; and Bill Faircloth, who was voted in as supervisor in 2020.
Vest represents District 1, which is most of the eastern part of the county, including the towns of Chelsea, Vining, Elberon, Clutier, Dysart and Traer. Faircloth represents District 2, which makes up the northwest quadrant of the county, including Toledo, Lincoln, Gladbrook, and Garwin. Anderson represents District 3, the southwest portion of the county, including the towns of Tama and Montour and the Meskwaki Settlement.
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