Government

Linn County supervisors adjust to 3-member board

Stacey Walker to review State of the County on Wednesday

Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers speaks during an August 2018 discussion about mental health in Cedar Rapids. He is one of three Linn County supervisors since the board went from five members to three. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers speaks during an August 2018 discussion about mental health in Cedar Rapids. He is one of three Linn County supervisors since the board went from five members to three. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker gives his State of the County address Wednesday, he will highlight the goals of three county supervisors rather than five.

Walker and fellow Supervisors Brent Oleson and Ben Rogers are now about four months into their terms on the leaner board.

Residents in 2016 voted to reduce the number of county supervisors, at least partially out of dissatisfaction over supervisors increasing their salaries to six figures.

Since January, the three supervisors, all Democrats, have been adjusting to new, larger districts, the larger impact of their votes and dividing the work — formerly done by five people — among three.

“I think there’s more weight and pressure on your votes than there had been with a five-member board,” Rogers said. “But that’s sort of my theme of this five to three is that it creates more challenges, but also more opportunities.

“Three of us, who work together really well, now control a $150 million budget,” he said. “There’s a lot of power in that versus five people from all over the county.”

Linn County voters approved the expansion to a five-member Board of Supervisors in 2006.

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At that time, the newly elected Oleson had hoped the larger board would give better representation to rural residents.

With a return to the smaller board, Oleson, of Marion, represents Marion and the surrounding rural areas and small towns. The other two supervisors live in Cedar Rapids.

Because of that, Oleson said he had concerns the board would become “a secondary city council.”

“That has not borne out to be true,” Oleson said, adding the board is planning new efforts to address mental health, poverty and community building.

“So that is the one thing that has worked out well is that we have staked out positions that are uniquely county and haven’t been captured by city government,” he said.

Earlier this year, the board unanimously approved a 2020 fiscal budget that included a pay increase for the supervisors, who will go to an annual salary of $115,726 on July 1.

The previous two years, the five supervisors chose to freeze their pay.

For Walker, chairman of the board, a major challenge has been to splitting the responsibilities among fewer people while still maintaining a quorum at meetings and being out and about in the community.

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Potential solutions include hiring additional staff to help with the caseload or reduce supervisor commitments to various boards and committees, Walker said.

“So, logistically, it’s tough,” he said. “We have to coordinate, who’s going to be gone and when, so that we can have meetings to literally keep the basic functions of the government in order. So, that’s challenging.”

Among the projects this year are a new mental health Access Center and supporting the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities (SET) Task Force.

Walker plans to discuss those efforts, among other goals for the coming year, at Wednesday’s event.

This is the 14th year the League of Women Voters Linn County has hosted the State of the County luncheon. Reservations were due last week for the luncheon, though the program is free and open to the public.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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