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The League of Women Voters hosted an educational forum for voters to be informed

BY GRACE PATERAS | OCTOBER 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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Johnson County, Iowa City, and Coralville officials on Tuesday discussed how a proposed local-option sales tax and courthouse annex could benefit the area.

The League of Women Voters of Johnson County hosted a forum with Coralville Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Gross, Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims, Johnson County Supervisor Terrance Neuzil, and County Attorney Janet Lyness leading the panel.

Officials said Johnson County has an outdated courthouse, which affects a growing community.

“We have a building built in 1901,” Neuzil said. “We need safety, space, and security.”

The courthouse annex needs a 60 percent supermajority vote in November.

If the votes reach 60 percent, either a 15- or 20-year-bond plan will be discussed.

“[A 20-year-bond plan] would be somewhere in the ballpark of $17,” Neuzil said. “If we can increase that by $1 or so, we can cut off $1 million.”

In the past, there have been proposals of an addition to the courthouse, as well as a new jail. Because the new jail has failed twice with the voters, garnering only 57 percent and 54 percent, officials decided to take the jail off the ballot.

Not wanting to disrupt the unique and historic look of the courthouse, the new annex plan will be built west of the facility and mostly underground, so passersby won’t notice the difference from the front of the building between the new design and the old.

“[The building] doesn’t meet current ADA standards,” Lyness said. “[Also] there’s a desperate need of more courtrooms, and additional judges for Johnson County. Cases get delayed longer until we have a courtroom and judge to hear a case.”

Currently, Lyness said that some cases may be postponed more than a year to be heard.

“Having to wait four or five years before your case is heard doesn’t sound like a very just system,” she said.

Additionally, there is concern about the security of the building.

“In the criminal cases where there’s a victim, they can be angry at a defendant,” Lyness said. “Emotions are high, which increases intention threats at a courthouse.”

However, not all residents are on board for the courthouse annex.

University of Iowa senior Matthew Evans believes the courthouse system can be modified instead of the building.

“Huge social-justice issues, like arrests for nonviolent crimes, can be dealt in a better way,” he said. “If they get the courthouse they’re looking for, voters are condoning their behaviors.”

The panel also discussed the local-options sales tax.

Of the 99 counties in Iowa, Johnson County and Polk County are the only two in the state that do not employ the local-option tax.

“When out-of-county residents eat, shop, and stay in our hotels, then we can collect their sales tax,” Mims said. “It’s not just us paying for it.”

If passed, the tax will last for 10 years.

One cent per $1 in sales would go toward the cities and their definition of a lawful purpose such as roads, water projects, and sewage projects.

Some of the revenue will also go toward affordable housing, such as housing for the elderly and disabled.

“We need this county to pull together and say, ‘We are a community,’ ” Gross said. “Vote yes, and help everyone out.”

Sitting in the audience was Mike Haverkamp, a University Heights city councilor.

“I’m a supporter of these issues,” he said. “I wanted to hear the questions that local residents have and to able to assist people when they have the same concerns.”


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