Supervisors discuss budget

BY BEN MARKS | FEBRUARY 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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From the failed courthouse annex to the medical examiner building and a conservation bond, Johnson County has seen a lot of changes and large projects since last year — and the proposed 2016 county budget reflects it.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors held a public budget hearing to summarize what they have spent the last four months working towards.

“It wasn’t as contentious as I thought it would be,” Supervisor Mike Carberry said about his first time planning a budget. “I thought it would be much more difficult to come to an agreement on certain things. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy but there weren’t a lot of arguments.”

The budget highlights, as presented by the board, included funding to support local foods; a study on disproportionate minority contact; a security entrance at the courthouse; replacement of the Ambulance Building; and road projects.

“There’s been a lot of projects which have been postponed or put on the back burner and this is the year where we’re playing catch-up,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said.

In November, voters rejected a bond referendum for a new courthouse annex and security upgrade to the Johnson County courthouse for a third time.

As a result, the supervisors decided to focus on finding other means of adding courthouse security, and finally settled on pursuing a temporary external addition.

The security entrance will be a small temporary addition onto the west side of the courthouse that will house two deputies, a metal detector, and a luggage scanner for people coming into the courthouse.

“It won’t deal with the space needs of the courthouse, but it will deal with some of the security issues,” Carberry said.

Although the supervisors will not vote on the funding until after the budget is approved, they have set aside $250,000 for the physical structure.

Another large capital improvement is the replacement of the current Ambulance Service building.

An estimated 27,000 sq. ft. replacement facility will be built at the current ambulance site, and will house the ambulances, medical examiner, and physical plant upon formal budget approval.

The building is budgeted for $3.4 million, with $400,000 of that coming from the 2015 budget.

In addition, the budget includes $3.5 million for the complete reconstruction of 1.5 miles of road from Hebl Ave. to James Ave.

There are also several conservation projects planned which will used the $20 million conservation bond referendum approved by voters in 2008.

In total, the conservation projects will cost $1.7 million and include trail extension, two park additions, and Kent Park projects.

However — despite the heavy presence of capital improvement projects and borrowing — for the fourth straight year Johnson County will have reduced its outstanding debt.

In addition, and as of June 2014, the city of Iowa City had less than half the amount of debt of Coralville: $123 million to $267 million.

Once the board has had a public hearing, they cannot raise the budget, only lower it, Supervisor Pat Harney said.

The board now has a week to make any changes, although Harney said any changes will be unlikely, and will finalize it at their formal meeting on March 5.

Afterwards it will be sent to the state for approval.

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