Johnson County officials meet with locals to discuss anticipated growth


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Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said immediate action is needed to prepare Iowa’s second-fastest-growing county for an influx of 20,000 to 30,000 residents by 2020.

Since 1996, he estimates, between 35,000 and 40,000 residents have flocked to Johnson County. Only Dallas County, home to the quickly developing west suburbs of Des Moines, has seen faster growth.

In the Tuesday afternoon public session, “Government and You,” at the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St., Neuzil outlined four recent local topics that center on the county’s current strategic plan.

Neuzil said although the county has grown and handled a number of infrastructure concerns over the years, tax-increment financing, the SEATS para-transit service, rural residential growth, and a revised, smaller plan for a new justice center are key areas that need to be addressed to responsibly push the area forward.

TIF, SEATS, and mental health occupied most of the two-hour time period.

Neuzil scrutinized the city of Coralville’s roughly $278 million in outstanding debt, as of June 30, as cause for concern that has and could continue to have detrimental effects on neighboring towns. He said that number resulted from excessive TIF redevelopment use, particularly in the Coral Ridge Mall’s 20-year TIF district; that is set to expire in 2018. 

“The way Iowa City handles TIF and how other cities handle TIFs are very different,” Neuzil said. “If you are a Coralville resident, I would want to know how [Coralville city officials] are ‘managing’ this. Every single year, millions of dollars that were supposed to be shared are reinvested back in the city of Coralville.”

Iowa City resident Mary Gravitt said with Coralville’s high debt, she is concerned with the use of TIF in Iowa City, calling the financing plan a “Ponzi scheme” about which many people aren’t properly educated.

“Iowa City is always going to be prosperous because of the university, law school, and hospital, for example,” she said. “But nobody knows what exactly TIF is. You can ask 50 people, and no one can tell you what it is. It’s going to come to an explosive end for somebody.”

For University Heights resident John McLure, the pressing issues lie not with TIF alone. He said the justice center and mental health should also be at the forefront.

“It might be a bombastic notion that the justice center be built by TIF, but legally, it could happen if Iowa City gives permission,” he said. “I guess I am a little nervous with mental health and disability services and whether things will fall through the cracks as a result.”

Despite his concerns, McLure said, he applauds Neuzil’s efforts to meet area concerns head-on at a personal level that is refreshing in politics.

“I really like the fact that he’s taking his time out of his busy schedule and not waiting for an auditorium to fill up before he comes to speak,” he said. “I have gotten a better sense now of what actually happens at the county level.”

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