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Board of Supervisors reflect on past year

BY LILY ABROMEIT | OCTOBER 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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In an effort to recognize success in the past year and plan for improvements in the future, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors disclosed its first annual report to the public for fiscal 2013.

“It just is important to reflect on your year, and sometimes you don’t know how much you’ve done over the year,” Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig, said. “Then you can learn and set goals for next year.”

The Public Presentation of the State of the County commended numerous agencies on their success over the past year while the discussion also included improvements they are hopeful to see in the future.

Criminal-justice system

Among the most-talked about county points over the past year has been over plans for a new Johnson County justice center.

Built in 1981, the current Johnson County Jail has a capacity of 92 inmates. However, according to the jail population statistics, roughly 160 Johnson County residents at any given time need to be jailed. Because of this, the county chose to spend close to $1.3 million yearly to send inmates to other county jails.

In November 2012, Johnson County residents failed to pass a proposed bond referendum that would put $46.8 million into the construction of a new, 243-bed facility with six courtrooms. While 56 percent voted in approval, it failed to pass the 60 percent required supermajority.

In May, an updated $43.5 million bond referendum reduced the number of beds and courtroom space from the earlier proposal. It, to, fell short of the supermajority, coming in at 54 percent.

Supervisor Pat Harney said the county’s 2-year-old jail-alternative program — which concentrates on mental-health screening — saw a decrease in population. In 2012, the average number stood at roughly 156 inmates. However, in 2013, that number dropped slightly to around 142.

Capital-improvement projects

Rettig said it was a busy year for work on physical plants, because there were many buildings in the county that are in need of repair.

“We have a lot of old buildings, and they’re well-loved, and while we like them, they are old and need to be fixed,” Rettig said.

The department has also worked with sustainability and green teams to install LED lights in county buildings as well as doubling record-storage sites. In addition, Rettig said, officials are working to stabilize buildings such as the courthouse as problems exist and need to be fixed in terms of safety measures.

“Facilities are constantly working so that all our guests … are safe,” Rettig said.

Among the county’s most prominent projects under construction to date is the Secondary Roads facility, 4810 Melrose Ave. The old building, than 40 years old, witnessed heavy damage in a March 25 fire and is currently being rebuilt with a 28,000-square-foot prefabricated metal building
In all, the Secondary Roads department manages more than 900 miles of gravel, dirt, and paved roads. It is responsible for plowing snow, laying gravel, mowing road shoulders, and grading, as well as the upkeep of culverts and bridges.

SEATS

SEATS, a more than 30-year-old transportation service for the disabled and elderly, has been at the forefront of local government talks for months, with the service’s funding future being debated.

The paratransit option has experienced a 25% increase in use over the last three years, Supervisors John Etheredge said.

“…  As people retire they need more services,” he said. “SEATS is just one of those services and that is one reason why the increase is so [high].”

The Iowa City City Council voted to approve a resolution signing a contract agreement with Johnson County for para-transit services — one that would eliminate half-fare rides and Sunday service — in a June 4 meeting.

Contracts that began July 1 with Coralville and University Heights. Under the agreements, Coralville would provide service to residents of both cities as well as North Liberty, the DI previously reported.

Under the contract, the city of Coralville will receive $46,000 from the county next fiscal year, and that amount could increase up to 3 percent each of the proceeding fiscal periods of the five-year deal.

The city of University Heights, under a one-year contractual agreement, will pay the county $8,444 next fiscal year.

In addition with efforts to focus tax dollars on making the system the best in the state, Etheredge said installation of cameras on the buses will also improve services.

The cameras, he said, will allow for employees and officials to monitor accidents and incidents on the bus.

“It’s nice to be able to go back and look at the camera to see what happened and be able to defend our employees,” Etheredge said.

Conservation

Conservation efforts, Supervisor Rod Sullivan said, were strongly backed last year by new conservation director Larry Gullett.

“Larry has hit the ground running and that’s probably putting it mildly. He’s as ambitious as anybody we’ve ever seen,” Sullivan said.

Among these projects, the supervisors oversaw successful measures to install an accessible fishing pier, a tornado shelter, and all-accessible WiFi at Kent Park.

Despite a wide range of construction, programming and day-to-day operations, however, Rettig maintained that the current county standing shows little concern.


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