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Johnson County “enthusiastic” of renewed Urban County Coalition commitment

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | NOVEMBER 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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After joining the Interstate-380 Coalition (now named the Urban County Coalition) in Nov.  2011, Johnson County officials say they expect to continue working with the collaborative lobbying group for the coming fiscal year.

The group, first proposed by Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers, aims to encourage joint planning among counties to create a centralized voice to lobby for their interests and gain influence in Des Moines. Any county in Iowa is eligible to join so long as it pays the annual membership fee of $20,000.

During a meeting today, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors plans to discuss “state and federal legislative issues,” including an update on the coalition. Supervisors will also address pending legislation affecting the county, according to a board agenda.

At the time of approval, Supervisor Pat Harney was the only supervisor to vote against joining the coalition, citing the $20,000 price tag as the primary issue. He was not available for comment Monday evening.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig was in favor of the coalition at the time of its approval, because it costs less than hiring a county lobbyist. She estimated that hiring a county lobbyist would cost $60,000 per year.

Supervisor Chairman Rod Sullivan said in its first year, the coalition has exceeded his expectations, and he expects the inaugural success to continue in the coming year.

He noted that Johnson County has been intimately involved in the group, money has been budgeted to continue working with the coalition, and he expects to do so with the coming of the next fiscal year.

“I think it was extremely successful last year,” he said. “We had a pretty dramatic impact on mental-health legislation on a statewide level. It’s the start of a very good relationship.”

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville said during the coalition’s first year, there have been both positive results, but also a few setbacks, describing it as a two-prong approach.

“I would give the coalition a B grade. One of the things it did on the social side is it looked at what we need to do with mental-health services and improvement,” he said. “I think it has made a good first step. We also came together as a Corridor with business development and recruitment, but we have a heck of a long way to go.”

Jacoby criticized Johnson County’s largest city in falling behind neighboring Coralville, North Liberty, and Tiffin in regards to lobbying.

“The city of Iowa City, Mayor Hayek, and others need to pick up the pace in communication,” he said. “I’m not sure that the money that the city of Iowa City invested was worth the cost.”

Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion declined to comment on the city’s lobbying efforts and on the Urban County Coalition. Mayor Matt Hayek and Councilor Susan Mims did not return requests for comments.

Jacoby emphasized the proven results of the coalition’s work and the community’s response.

“The feedback has been pretty positive,” he said. “The coalition helps lay the framework for connections with not only local legislators but also other legislators from across the state. I certainly don’t think we have to use the money in the future once we have these connections established.”

Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston said her group will work with the coalition this year.

“It worked very well for us,” she wrote in an email response. “We were able to work effectively on several important issues, including mental-health redesign. We worked last year and will continue to work again this year on property tax reform.”

Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil echoed Sullivan’s thoughts on the early success of the Urban County Coalition, saying it has been a positive avenue for the county during the past year and work among the counties involved has been extremely beneficial.

“We’re enthusiastically on board again and will continue efforts with Linn, Scott, and Black Hawk,” he said. “The two things we will work closely on will be continuing to monitor mental-health and disability-health reform and the commercial property tax. In essence, we’re going to do our best to protect local government.”


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