2018 ELECTIONS: LINN COUNTY

Linn County voters undo quest to add more rural representation

But shrinking to 3 supervisors saves salaries, proponent says

Linn County's new flag.
Linn County's new flag.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County supervisors have argued that putting five of them instead of three on the board gives rural voters more representation in government.

But most Linn County voters — many of them rural — don’t appear to agree on its importance.

The majority vote in 57 of the county’s 86 precincts in Tuesday’s election favored reducing the five-member Board of Supervisors to three — thereby reducing the number of elected officials who make six-figure salaries.

With that, efforts made by rural residents a decade ago to grow the board from three to five were undone.

“A lot of us went through a lot of work to get rural representation in Linn County, and these people have thrown it away,” said Dave Machacek, who helped push for the expansion in 2006.

“I’m just flabbergasted that a group of Linn County rural residents have done this, and I think we’re going to be the goats for it.”

Coggon’s Kevin Kula, who spearheaded the effort to reduce the size of the board, argued that cutting two supervisor seats saves money in salaries and benefits.

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For fiscal year 2017, a Linn County supervisor is to earn about $103,000 — the same as the county’s elected auditor, recorder and treasurer.

“I can’t complain, it went my way,” Kula said of the vote.

The 57 precincts with majority votes for reducing the board were scattered throughout Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha — but also in smaller community precincts including Walker, Fairfax and Robins.

Only 27 precincts — all in Cedar Rapids, Marion and Mount Vernon — had majority votes in favor of keeping a five-member board.

Ultimately, the measure reducing the size of the board passed 49,909 votes to 47,615. Results are to be official when votes are canvassed in about a week.

What does this mean for Linn County?

First, county voters in the November 2018 election are going to pick three supervisors.

That means Stacey Walker, Ben Rogers and Brent Oleson, who were elected Tuesday, are to serve for two years — rather than the usual four — before deciding whether to run again.

The terms of supervisors James Houser and John Harris, who did not face election this cycle, already expire in 2018.

Kula said he plans to submit a petition calling for a public vote on the county representation plan in an August 2017 special election.

Iowa code allows for three types of plans.

The board currently has five districts with voters in each selecting only their representative. Another option allows at-large supervisors elected by the entire county. A third has all residents voting for representatives who must live in designated districts. The only option that doesn’t require redistricting is an at-large representation plan.

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If redistricting takes place, it would require creation of a redistricting committee. The process would have to be completed by Dec. 15, 2017, said Gary Jarvis, assistant county attorney.

Oleson said that no matter the representation plan, his concern is all supervisors not come from Cedar Rapids.

“I’m all for Cedar Rapids, don’t get me wrong, but you have to have a counter balance of opinion and thought, so county government does not just become an extension of the City Council of Cedar Rapids,” he said.

In addition, Harris said there’s a possibility the board at some point might consider creating a county administrator position to handle the workload once carried by two supervisors.

Supervisors oversee the county’s yearly budget of more than $100 million and its roughly 800 employees.

“I think it’s something that, when we end up with three and we see how well or how unwell the county is running, that might be the time that we say, ‘Look, we need a county manager,’” Harris said. “I don’t think we’re going to look seriously at that for quite some time, but it is a possibility.”

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