Linn County Supervisor District 1 covers southern Cedar Rapids.
Name: James Houser
Party: No party
Residence: Cedar Rapids
Occupation: Linn County supervisor
Education: Journeyman sheet metal, Kirkwood Community College, 1977; Licensed Realtor in the state of Iowa, 2011
What are the three most important issues in Linn County, and how would you address them?
• Securing flood protection for the $150 million in county infrastructure on May’s Island is imperative.
• Creating an Access to Community Care and Effectiveness Services and Support Center (ACCESS) for those suffering from mental health issues and chemical dependency would be a big step in the right direction.
• As an active-reserve deputy sheriff, I know the importance of working together to reduce crime. Multi-prong approaches are needed, such as the addition of nine new deputies, and recommendations from the SET Taskforce, which provided valuable community information and goals.
What issues would you like to see the board push for in the coming two to four years?
• A comprehensive flood control system that protects our residents and infrastructure. We should work with an engineering firm to lay out possibilities, and develop a cost estimate to be used as a planning guide.
• The creation of ACCESS for crisis intervention for those suffering from mental health issues and chemical dependency is critical to our health and welfare.
The size of the board will reduce from five members to three at the start of 2019, how does this impact the board? How would having a three-member board change your approach as a supervisor?
As the only candidate who has served on both a three-member and five-member board, I understand the responsibilities associated with both. The impact of going from a five to three could be quite noticeable, as we may have to change the way certain business is conducted. I’ll continue to be a leader in management and policy decisions by showing up every day, working hard, and addressing constituent issues with transparency.
What should the county’s role in flood protection be? Should the county pursue flood protection measures and, if so, how would you do so?
We should absolutely have a role in flood protection. Acting in the best interest of Linn County taxpayers, we must work together for a comprehensive flood control system. I would like to see us hire a consulting engineer to develop plans and a cost estimate to protect our infrastructure. Any solution above the county’s bonding authority for essential county purposes would need to be put to a referendum.
How well does county government work with city governments within the county? Are there efficiencies that can be achieved with intergovernmental agreements?
We could do better. Some members have agendas and personalities that create barriers to dialogue and creative solutions. We face challenges and must work together for solutions; rather than creating problems to take credit for solving them. Where agreements create efficiencies, they are implemented. My track record and strengths helped form the Cedar Rapids Linn County Solid Waste Agency. This agreement combined the assets and liabilities of the city and county to control waste management.
Should the county push the envelope with state matters or with multi-jurisdictional issues? When should the county work with other entities and when should the county go its own way?
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Advocating in the best interest of Linn County working across jurisdictions and with the state Legislature is our job. The City of Cedar Rapids, the school district and the county worked together on the Safe Equitable Thriving (SET) Taskforce to establish recommendations to reduce youth violence and poverty in our community. This is a perfect example of how we can, and should, work together.
We should only go our own way when the interest of Linn County taxpayers is best served by doing so.
If you’re forced to cut the county budget, where do you look for savings? Why?
When looking at my funding priorities, flood protection, mental health and crime reduction translate directly into reducing the burden on taxpayers. Getting ahead of crime will allow us to see savings from reduced overtime pay and less drain on public resources. Having more economic development successes grows the tax base and budgets balance easier. And, as flood control is put in place, our budget is protected from the expenses that come from response and property damage repair.
Do you think the county should increase spending on rural road maintenance?
We spend the maximum amount of money allowed by state law on rural roads. In addition, 25 percent of the revenue from local-option sales tax is designated for rural roads. Balancing needs against available resources is always a challenge. To increase spending, we must increase the stream of revenue which is controlled by state and federal law. At this time, the needs of the rural road system due to weathering and use outpace our ability to pay for their upkeep.
Would you favor the regionalization of some services? If so, which ones?
Yes, if the investment is prudent and leads to improved efficiencies for the taxpayers and residents. The study for a Regional Transit Authority has taken place, however the final results haven’t been released. In looking at the pros and cons to this regionalism, I am in full support. It will create efficiencies and extend the evening hours of service. In the world of work, transportation is an equalizer. I look forward to realizing the value of this service to business and residents.
How would you communicate with your constituents?
Communication is key in everything we do. I do my best to be available and accessible within 24 hours of constituent contact. Office numbers and email addresses are published on the county website. Twitter, Facebook, and an email news subscription are available, as well as a semiannual newsletter which is sent out to all rural Linn County residents. We also publish an annual Popular Financial Report which shows the county’s financial condition.