Hein, McKean visit with county officials

Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Two area legislators were present at the Dec. 6 Jones County Supervisor meeting to give updates from Des Moines, as well as seek comments from the county.

     Rep. Lee Hein and newly elected Rep. Andy McKean heard from the board itself, as well as the conservation, treasurer, county attorney, and auditor’s offices. Topics ranged from mental health funding, REAP funding, Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy trust fund, driver’s licenses, magistrate court proceedings, and elections.

     Supervisor Wayne Manternach said his biggest concern is mental health funding, and making sure the formula remains equal across all participating counties. (Jones County is a member of the MH/DS of the East Central Region.)

     Rep. Hein said no formal proposal has been seen yet.

     Rep. McKean said this issue would likely come up during the negotiating process this year.

     “There’s a strong movement toward mental health funding,” he said.

     McKean said he has always been cautious about regional mandates.

     “As a rule, rural counties get hurt,” he said. As a former county supervisor, McKean said he has always tried to keep as many local services as he could.

     Manternach urged the state to look into the funding issue as soon as possible so counties can have their budgets in place by the deadline in March.

     “Some counties have to spend their reserves,” he said. “That’s one-time money. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

     “It won’t happen quite as soon as you’d like it to happen,” Hein warned for the timeframe for approving mental health funding.

     “I have a real sense that a resolution has to found,” said McKean. “I’m confident that a resolution will be reached this session.”

     Supervisor Ned Rohwedder explained that regionalization was forced upon the counties that, in turn, have spent a lot of money, time and resources to make it happen and successful.

     “We didn’t have a problem before the region,” said Rohwedder. “It was handed down to us without any money to form the region. It was an unnecessary thing we had to deal with. It was an unfounded mandate, and we were promised equal funding, and that hasn’t happened.”

     McKean said there will be no eliminating the regions, but he remains hopeful equalization will come.

     Conservation Director Brad Mormann asked the representatives to continue their funding of such statewide programs as REAP and Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy trust fund. Mormann said those programs have allowed Jones County to do multiple projects here.

     “That helps us to have the money as a small county to compete with a larger area,” Mormann said.

     He said without the DNR’s lake restoration program, the county would not have the funds and resources needed to complete the Central Park Lake restoration project.

     “It costs the county a lot of money,” he said, “just the park alone.”

     Hein said he doesn’t expect the state’s budget to look any different this year in terms of pools of money.

     “If we can maintain the status quo,” Hein said, “that’s a pretty good achievement.”

     McKean praised the county and all of the departments are accomplishing a lot with very little resources. He said the latest projections show the state will remain low this next year in terms of revenue.

     “It’s going to be a tough fiscal year ahead,” he said.

     However, McKean said he’s a big proponent of making sure rural counties get the funding they deserve.

     “The need for rural revitalization is weighing on me,” he said. “Too much money goes to urban corridors, and there’s not enough for rural areas to take advantage of.”

     County Treasurer Amy Picray’s concern was to keep the issuance of driver’s license in the counties. She said she’s heard that community colleges are interested in bringing in this service.

     “They’re a good fit for CDL testing and training,” Picray said of community colleges. “Testing eats up a lot of resources in the treasurer’s office.”

     McKean said he would imagine there would be a lot of start-up costs involved for community colleges to implement driver’s license services.

     County Attorney Phil Parsons said his office brings in roughly $15,000 a year of revenue after collecting fines.

     “It’s been a battle the past couple of years because the state wants that money,” Parsons explained. “But we do benefit from it here in Jones County.”

     Persons also asked the legislators to take a look at tweaking the state’s penal codes, which would greatly affect the workload of a county attorney.

     “I’ve gone from 160 to 300 indictment cases,” Parsons said. “They’ve just exploded.”

     He said the majority of those cases are drug-related. With the prisons full and the public wanting justice served, he’s in a tough spot.

     “There are ways to eliminate the weight upon the court system and still achieve the same goals and punishments,” suggested Parsons. He said these drug-related cases could be dropped down to simple misdemeanors and heard in magistrate court versus district court.

     “That would reducer my caseload at the district level by about 25 percent,” Parsons said. “You’d achieve the same accountability at a fraction of the effort.”

     McKean admitted that this would be a “tough job to get accomplished.” He said he would be serving on the judicial committee in Des Moines, and would welcome Parsons’ input.

     County Auditor Janine Sulzner spoke against the merging of city and school elections. She said it’s been talked about due to the low voter turnout for both.

     “It creates a lot of administration challenges,” she said. “The precincts and polling places are different for a city and a school election. There would be a lot of confusion.”

     She suggested if the state were serious on this matter, they should combine all elections with the general election every two years.

     Hein said one argument for not combining the elections is to keep school board elections out of political party lines.

     McKean said he would like to see all county offices, for that matter, non-partisan.

     “I heard that an awful lot going door to door,” he said, “and for supervisors, too.”

     Hein said he would like to see straight ticket voting eliminated as well.


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