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Linn County supervisors’ chair calls again for adding 2 more elected officials to board
Annual speech given in-person first time since 2019
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Board of Supervisors Chair Ben Rogers called Friday for the board to increase again to five members after voters upset at six-figure salaries whittled it down to three members in 2016.
Rogers made his remarks during the annual State Of Linn County address, held in-person for the first time since 2019 because of the pandemic at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center.
In Linn County, the number of elected members on the Board of Supervisors has changed twice in the last two decades. It increased from three to five members in 2006, and decreased back down to three in 2016.
Voters upset that supervisor salaries had for the fist time crossed $100,000 a year and worried there was no good check to make sure the elected officials were working full-time forced the question. Starting July 1, supervisors will earn $124,967 a year.
“I get when faced with the choice of having the same level of government or less, most people would vote for less without fully realizing its impact … ” Rogers said. “Fewer supervisors means less representation, especially to rural Linn County residents.”
Rogers, who has addressed the issue before, cited the increasing workload and the complexity of issues as well as the ability to talk one-on-one with colleagues as reasons to increase the number of supervisors.
Rogers said that throughout the debate on approving a utility-scale solar project near Coggon, residents felt it was unfair that only two supervisors from Cedar Rapids get to make decisions that impact rural residents. Supervisor Louie Zumbach from Coggon opposed the project but was outvoted.
Rogers mentioned that though the Iowa Legislature could change the board makeup through state law or that the supervisors could put a question on the ballot themselves, he thinks it should be up to the voters — as it was the previous times the board changed.
“Since citizens voted to reduce the board representation, it should be up to voters of Linn County if they want to increase it back to five,” Rogers said. “Not by state legislative decree or the Board of Supervisors arbitrarily placing it on the ballot for another vote.”
Rogers, in other remarks during the address, said the county has become more resilient after the pandemic struck in March 2020 and the derecho hit five months later.
“It was former boxing heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson who once said, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they are punched in the mouth,’” Rogers said. “We may not have a plan for everything, but our community has shown over and over again that we can take a punch and are still standing.”
Rogers touched on public health, mental health and other social services, renewable energy and sustainability and American Rescue Plan Act funding. The speech was followed by a Q&A session moderated by the League of Women Voters Linn County, who sponsored the address.
Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, Rogers said while everyone has shouldered burdens and made sacrifices, he argued that few have shouldered more than Linn County Public Health Director Dr. Pramod Dwivedi.
“Few have had to fly a plane, turn on the fasten seat belt sign, extinguish a cabin fire, serve the drinks, land safely and be ready for the next flight all at the same time,” Rogers said.
The public health department was the first public health agency in Iowa to earn national accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. The county’s public health department was also one of eight departments nationally to receive the Preventing Violence Affecting Young Lives funding grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The $1.25 million grant allows the agency to continue to work with community partners to coordinate initiatives to address risk factors for youth violence in Cedar Rapids and Linn County, Rogers said.
Rogers said that between the crises the Linn County community has experienced over the past few years, the disconnect and loss of normalcy has affected almost every person.
“Even the most resilient among us have struggled,” Rogers said. “A population that has been severely affected by all of the above are those at risk of becoming homeless and the chronically homeless.”
Rogers noted how Linn County has seen record numbers of on-the-street homeless individuals in the last year. Last fall, over 100 individuals were identified as living on the streets. About 40 percent of Linn County’s homeless population is children, he said.
“That didn’t make sense to me until I learned one of the leading causes of homelessness in Cedar Rapids is not directly related to drugs, alcohol or lack of money, but domestic violence.”
Last fall, Linn County purchased a 16,000-square-foot building at 1017 12th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids from Alliant Energy with $395,000 in ARPA dollars to serve as a cold-overflow shelter. The shelter closed for the season March 31. In its first season, it served 623 individuals with an average of 62 people per night.
In addition, Linn County was awarded $5.3 million in federal Emergency Rental Assistance dollars last year to assist residents at risk of being evicted once a moratorium on evictions was lifted.
“The program helped more than 1,500 people stay in their homes or apartments,” Rogers said. “If this program didn’t exist, our homeless numbers would have increased significantly.”
And the Linn County Mental Health Access Center opened in March 2021, celebrating its anniversary just last month.
“To date, we have helped over 535 walk-ins and 96 referrals from law enforcement who would have otherwise gone to jail or the hospital,” Rogers said. “When you have the courage to finally seek help or if this is your 10th time needing to use the Access Center, you are treated with compassion, empathy and non-judgment. We are all complicated people navigating a complex world.”
Earlier this year, as Rogers noted in his remarks about the board makeup, the supervisors voted to approve a 750 acre utility-scale solar project near Coggon. The county also has an active applications for another solar project near Palo from NextEra.
“(The Coggon project) will employ local labor … in the construction and decommissioning of the panels and will power more than 18,000 homes in Iowa,” Rogers said.
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