Local Government

Signatures mounting in favor of rethinking Linn County Supervisors structure

Last year supervisor pay surpassed the six figure mark

Kevin Kula (right) explains a petition to reduce the Linn County Board of Supervisors from 5 to 3 supervisors outside th
Kevin Kula (right) explains a petition to reduce the Linn County Board of Supervisors from 5 to 3 supervisors outside the Jean Oxley Building in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A member of the Linn County group petitioning for a change of the county government structure says they are nearing their goal for signatures.

Kevin Kula, a member of Concerned Citizens of Linn County, said Friday the group — which is circulating two petitions aimed at the Linn County Board of Supervisors — has collected more than 5,500 signatures on each petition.

Members of the group have been collecting signatures all week outside the county’s Jean Oxley Building, 935 Second St. SW.

Both petitions began circulating in August. The first seeks to reduce the county board from five supervisors back to three.

Kula, from rural Coggon, argued the board doesn’t do enough work to warrant the need for five members.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s not enough work for three, let alone five,” he said.

Kula estimated the reduction in supervisors to save the county as much as $270,000 annually.

Supervisor John Harris, District 5, disagreed, noting that, in addition to the weekly meetings, supervisors also split up participation on nearly 60 county boards and commissions.

“To split that among three would be nearly impossible,” Harris said.

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Harris added that removing two supervisors wouldn’t necessarily result is as much of a savings as Kula claims.

Harris said fewer supervisors would likely require the county to hire a county administrator to pick up lost responsibilities.

“It’s a little inaccurate to tell the voters that come to that petition table that if we go from five to 3 supervisors we can save that money and get the same service,” he said.

Kula also criticized the board over its annual approval of supervisor pay increases in recent years.

Linn County supervisors currently make a little more than $103,000. The board on Tuesday approved a 3 percent pay increase for supervisors and the county auditor, recorder and treasurer. A 3.5 percent increase was approved for the county sheriff and attorney.

“The people of Linn County are tired of the supervisors voting themselves more raises,” Kula said. A second petition calls for a public vote on the county’s district plan — which dictates the board’s representation rules within the county.

Currently, the board has five districts with voters within each district voting solely for their representative.

Another district plan allows at-large supervisors voted for by the entire county and the third option has all residents voting for district representatives.

Kula didn’t say there was a district plan he prefers, but rather that he feels the voters should have a say in the matter.

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“Our only concern for this is to get it on the ballot so the people of Linn County know they have a choice,” he said. “We do have an option, we can change this.”

Harris, who resides in the county’s rural district, argued for the county’s current district plan, which he said provides the best representation.

Of the roughly 250,000 residents in the county, nearly 200,000 live within the metro area of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and Robbins, Harris said.

“If you go to at-large, because of that disparity in voter density, you’re going to have probably three people from the metro area,” he said.

Kula said he needs 8,695 signatures — 10 percent of the number voting in the 2014 general election as set by state law — on each petition to put both matters on the November ballot. He is seeking 10,000 signatures to be safe.

The county board went from three supervisors to five in 2006 following a public vote.

In 2009, the five-member board agreed to drop its pay to 80-percent time. But the board reverted to full time four years later.

Last year supervisor pay surpassed the six figure mark.

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