116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Sustainability Department hopes to have a big year. The department, made up of Director Tamara Marcus and a few AmeriCorps members, will look to hire a resiliency coordinator after having just launched its first sustainability plan for the county and its departments.
“I’m really excited for this new resilience coordinator position,” Marcus said. “We started meeting with (Human Resources) last year to finalize the job description. I think this will be a huge step going from one full-time staff member to two.”
In October, the county supervisors voted to allocate $363,389 of American Rescue Plan Act money to fund department operations, including the resiliency coordinator position for three years. Beyond the first three years, the plan would be to fund the position from the county’s general fund, Marcus said.
However, the federal pandemic funding that was approved in October may be reconsidered Monday.
Supervisor Chair Louie Zumbach put an item on the agenda for Monday’s work session: Discuss and decide on amending the funding awards by removing funds for the Linn County Director of Resiliency Operations. Zumbach said he put it on the agenda to reconsider because he doesn’t want it to be used to hire personnel.
“In the course of doing things too fast, too quickly, I just missed it and it slid by me,” Zumbach told The Gazette.
“I think that the position needs more studying before hiring and I think there are a lot of good things in the resilience report,” Zumbach said of the Community Resilience Project’s final report that was put together by the Collective Clarity consulting firm last summer. “I’m not out to scoop the department itself of funding. I just don’t want to hire anyone at the county with ARPA money. … I think that money can be spent in that department, just not on personnel.”
Supervisor Ben Rogers said it is highly uncommon that a new board of supervisors, sworn in this month, is considering taking back a decision of a previous board.
When the funding was approved by the supervisors in October, the board included Zumbach, a Republican, and Rogers and former Supervisor Stacey Walker, both Democrats. Walker did not seek re-election in November, and Democrat Kirsten Running-Marquardt was elected to the board.
“We negotiated this in public and it was published,” Rogers said. “I don’t understand why Supervisor Zumbach waited to bring this up now when we voted on this back in October.”
Rogers said he views using ARPA dollars to fund a resiliency coordinator as a pilot program.
“At the end, you can determine its success and viability or if it needs to be sunsetted. We have an opportunity for the American taxpayers to fund this position instead of it being solely on Linn County taxpayers,” he said. “But the new board should be focusing on new issues, not decisions previous boards made four months ago. It’s breaking with tradition.”
Running-Marquardt said she intends to keep ARPA funding with the sustainability department, but to look at bringing in a resiliency coordinator under the general budget — not ARPA funding.
“I believe if we make a couple changes, this will end up strengthening the sustainability department and future resilience efforts,” she said. “It’s addressing the problem of using one-time money to fund an ongoing salaried position in the county.”
Marcus said that while her position is more about working within the county and its departments, a resiliency coordinator would be externally focused.
“My position is more internally focused,” Marcus said. “It’s focused more on supporting our departments, helping us balance our limited natural resources and using taxpayer funds more efficiently.”
The department’s operating budget is about $27,000, outside of Marcus’ annual salary of around $66,000.
A county sustainability plan
Marcus said the Linn County Internal Sustainability Plan was the result of nine months of meetings by a steering committee made up of county staff across departments.
The Board of Supervisors approved the plan 2-1 in December with Zumbach voting against it. Zumbach did not comment during discussion of the plan.
The plan includes four high-level goals, and dozens of underlying action steps for county departments to take. These action steps include identifying opportunities for solar power on county land, reducing chemical use and assessing pest-control on county lands and creating a green space master plan to include pocket prairies and resiliency hubs on county property, among other items.
“I think it’s achievable within the timeline,” Marcus said. “Sometimes you see these plans that are hundreds of pages and you’re like, ‘How are they going to do all that work?’ But in these action steps, while I think there’s space to grow and push the bounds, there’s the accountability factor of a certain department taking a certain action by a certain time.”
Sustainability Department actions so far
The new plan builds on previous sustainability work done by the county since Marcus was hired in 2020.
The work done so far by the county’s newest department has included a new annual greenhouse gas inventory, the establishment of a sustainability and resilience committee, the Linn County tree equity program and the establishment of the resiliency hub.
The department also took part in the Grow Solar programs in Linn and Johnson counties, which saw about 64 homes install solar panels. The program received a 2022 excellence in action award from the Iowa State Association of Counties.
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