The state of Linn County - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

The state of Linn County

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CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) -- Linn County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman, Linda Langston, delivered the 4th Annual State of the County address on Thursday.

Langston says that Linn County has reached the goals set in last year's address by having all county services back in a permanent home or having that permanent home identified following the floods of 2008.

The sheriff's department, jail, courthouse and elections depot are all back in their original homes.

The new home for Options of Linn County, Linn County Community Services and Veteran's Affairs will share a building that will be built on 26th Avenue Court SW, just off Wilson Avenue.

Ground will be broken on a new juvenile courthouse and law center in the next few months.  It will be built on county-owned property on the corner of 2nd St. and 8th Ave. SW, near the administrative building and will be built one foot above the record flood level of 2008. 

The final piece of the puzzle came when the Iowa Legislature approved two bills totaling $8.9 million for the renovation and expansion of the Administrative Office Building.

Langston says that this funding, combined with more than $2 million from FEMA, means Linn County will not have to raise local property taxes for this project.

Langston also says the layout of the building will be redesigned, putting services and departments in locations that will better serve residents.  For instance, he Treasurer's Office, which sees about 70 percent of the building's foot traffic, will move to the first floor.

Also, the information technology department will no longer be in that building, and will be in a place safe from flood waters.

The county will also work with FEMA to protect the building from future floods.

Langston also says that the county is discussing a name change for the building.

She did point out that there will be one flood-damaged building that will not be rebuilt.

The Linn County Youth Shelter will be closed on April 30.  The shelter care capacity will be moved to Foundation 2 and Four Oaks.

On a non-flood related note, Langston pointed out that county will continue developing the partnerships with the cities located in Linn County that have developed over the last year.

They will also continue working with Johnson and Black Hawk Counties on the possibility of developing an urban county caucus.

Langston also added that the expansion of Highway 100 remains a priority for Linn County

Online Content Manager: Eric Page

Below is the full text of Supervisor Langston's speech:

2010 STATE OF THE COUNTY
Presented by: Linda Langston, Chairwoman Linn County Board of Supervisors
Linn County, Iowa
April 8, 2010

 

Good afternoon. I'm Linda Langston, Chairwoman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors. It is my honor to present to you the 2010 State of the County address. Thank you for being here today. And thank you to the League of Women Voters for organizing today's event. The League is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Congratulations to them for this milestone and for providing 90 years of citizen education and advocacy.

Joining me today is:

Supervisor Lu Barron – District 1

Supervisor Ben Rogers – District 3

Supervisor Brent Oleson – District 4

and Supervisor Jim Houser – District 5.

I represent District 2.

Also here today is Treasurer Mike Stevenson and Sheriff Brian Gardner. Attorney Harold Denton, Auditor Joel Miller and Recorder Joan McCalmant were unable to attend.

I would like to thank the other elected officials for joining us today – mayors, city council members and state legislators.

I'd like to take a moment to recognize Linn County staff here today. If you would, please stand. Our staff is the backbone of county government and our services. Thank you for all you do.

April is National County Government Month, which makes today's State of the County address especially important and timely. The purpose of National County Government Month is to raise public awareness and understanding about the roles and responsibilities of counties.

Who here today – aside from county staff – knows the services counties provide and knows the difference between county government and city government?

County government provides many services mandated by the state. I'm sure you are all familiar with the Treasurer's Office where you pick up and renew your license plates and take care of property taxes. The Treasurer distributes property tax payments to cities, school districts and other taxing bodies. Only about 16 percent of the property taxes paid by city residents stays with the county. County taxes represent approximately one-third of property taxes for residents in unincorporated areas.

The county is also responsible for conducting elections and ensuring integrity and fairness in the election process through the Auditor's Office. The county records real estate documents and vital records such as birth and death certificates and issues marriage licenses and passports in the Recorder's Office. And the county helps ensure public safety through the Sheriff's and Attorney's Offices and runs the only jail in Linn County. Those of you from unincorporated areas or smaller towns know the county is responsible for maintaining the secondary road system and plowing snow in the winter. And I'm sure most people in this room have visited at least one of Linn County's 27 parks or recreation areas, including Squaw Creek, Pinicon Ridge and Morgan Creek among others.

Other services the county provides may not be as well known and may not be mandated by the state, but we choose to provide them to the public because they are just as important. Among the many duties of the public health department, for example, is inspecting the restaurants we eat in, monitoring the air we breathe to ensure it stays within healthy standards, providing immunizations for children and working with community partners to help ensure the health of our entire community. One recent example of these partnerships is with the Sinclair fire last year. Public health officials worked with the City of Cedar Rapids to monitor and communicate the state of the air quality in the surrounding area. We did our job and helped protect the public health.

Linn County also provides a number of social services for children and adults in various life stages. We have the Child Development Center and Empowerment, Youth Services and DECAT to help children and young adults succeed. We provide services and job assistance for adults with mental health and developmental disabilities and financial assistance to low-income residents. We also help veterans coming back from war and seniors who want to remain independent in their homes. Helping people is why county government exists.

Linn County does a lot of things well. But one thing we, and most governmental bodies, don't do well, is celebrate our successes. The last two years have been an extreme challenge for our community and our state because of the 2008 flood combined with a national recession. While many battles remain to be fought, we have fought through many of these challenges and have a number of successes to share with you today. These successes show that hard work pays off and that government does work. And that's why I would like to focus today on recognizing these successes and celebrating them.

During last year's State of the County address, we told you about our flood recovery goals for restoring County operations to permanent facilities. I am proud to tell you today that we have met every one of our flood recovery goals for our buildings. All Linn County departments displaced by the 2008 flood are now either in a permanent home or have a permanent home identified. We have accomplished this in less than two years after the fourth worst natural disaster in our nation's history related to public assistance.

Our reopened buildings include:

- The Elections Depot (across the street from the county's administrative building)
- The Sheriff's Office – which will have a public open house and tours on Saturday, April 17 from 1-4 p.m.

The Linn County Courthouse and jail are reopened; however, we are still working with FEMA on mitigation and improvements to both buildings that will reduce the severity of damages if we ever have another flood of the magnitude of 2008. Because we will be improving the buildings to make them more functional into the future and not simply repairing the damage, FEMA will not cover the full expense. The plans have not been finalized yet or approved by the Board of Supervisors, but we expect a funding gap of approximately $4 million for the improvements at both buildings. We will apply to a new round of I-JOBS funding and other grant programs to help fill this gap. We may need to consider bonding.

With funding from FEMA and I-JOBS, and minimal local property tax dollars, Linn County will soon begin construction on a new building for Options of Linn County, Linn County Community Services – or LCCS – and Veteran Affairs. This building will be constructed on 26th Avenue Court SW in Cedar Rapids, close to Wilson Avenue. The Options building was destroyed by flood waters and LCCS was located downtown in the Witwer building. The VA office was located across from the county administrative office. These departments will now share a building and we will look to sell Witwer, effectively reducing the number of county-owned buildings and bringing services together under one roof. Departments in this building will include General Assistance, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Home Health, Aging and Disabilities Resource Center and the county's Information Technology department. The building will be constructed by a local general contractor under a project labor agreement signed by the Linn County Board of Supervisors and the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Building Trades. This construction project will create local, well-paying jobs at a time when we need them.

Within the next few months, Linn County will also break ground on a new juvenile courthouse and law center. Juvenile court functions and offices were in the lower level of the Linn County Courthouse on May's Island before the flood. Due to the extent of flood damage in that area, our flood mitigation measures call for removing those critical functions from the lower level and constructing a new building to house them. The new juvenile courthouse will be built on county-owned property on the corner of 2nd St. and 8th Ave. SW, near the administrative building. It will be built one foot above the record flood level of 2008 and will also use FEMA and I-JOBS funding. 

Last week, we received the final piece of our puzzle when the legislature voted on two bills that will fully fund $8.9 million for the expansion and renovation of Linn County's main public service building. A huge thanks goes out to our legislators who recognized a flood recovery need here in Linn County and fought for these bills and voted for them and to Governor Culver for strongly advocating for them. This funding, combined with more than $2 million from FEMA, means Linn County will not have to raise local property tax dollars to pay for a permanent site for Linn County's main public service building.

The expansion and renovation are needed to meet pre-flood space needs and to repair damages caused by the flood.

The renovation and expansion of the building will focus on providing better customer service and improved access for the public.

The layout of the building is completely redesigned to locate services and departments based on customer service needs. So when you think of returning to this building, don't think of the building it was before the flood. It will be improved and better able to serve you. The proposed floor plans are here today if you would like to see them, and they are also available on Linn County's web site. We will be making some slight adjustments to these plans now that the information technology department will no longer be in that building.

The Treasurer's Office, which receives about 70 percent of the building's foot traffic, will move to the first floor for improved public access. But don't forget you can renew your license plates and pay your property taxes online instead of standing in line.

The Auditor and Recorder will be relocated adjacent to one another and will share a lobby.

The county is looking into purchasing land near the employee parking lot to expand the available parking at the site.

Linn County will work with FEMA to protect the building from future flood threats by:

- Sealing the foundation walls.
- Capping the underground pipes that are no longer in use to prevent water from entering the building.
- And moving the Recorder and Information Technology department out of the basement. The Recorder's Office will move to an upper floor, and the Information Technology department will move to the Options/LCCS building that will be constructed later this year.

As we prepare for the renovations and the expansion, the county is discussing a name change for this building that will more accurately reflect its function. It is a public service center where the public can register and license vehicles; pay property taxes; register to vote; obtain birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, passport applications, hunting and fishing licenses and property deeds and real estate documents. The building houses the Board of Supervisors, the offices of the Auditor, Recorder, Treasurer and the Linn County Assessor. Other departments include Planning and Development, Budget and Finance, Human Resources, Risk Management, Purchasing and the mail room. A new name has not been chosen yet, but we expect to have one identified soon.

The Options/LCCS building, the Juvenile Law Center and Courthouse and the public service building will meet LEED Silver certification standards, a certification program that encourages green and sustainable building practices. It will reduce the lifetime operational cost and greatly improve energy efficiency. We expect all three buildings to be complete in 2011.

We know there are differing opinions on whether Linn County should return to this building, even with improvements. We respect those opinions. In fact, the Board of Supervisors conducted a series of open houses last October specifically to gain public input on where Linn County residents wanted the office to be located. What the open house and online surveys revealed was that the public did not strongly favor one option. Each of the five options presented had support. The one thing that was clear, however, is that Linn County residents were concerned about the cost and their property taxes. That's why the Board of Supervisors did not support Westdale Mall as a permanent location for county offices. We are leasing the space now, and FEMA is reimbursing the cost on a temporary basis. FEMA reimbursements will end in June 2012, and the rent we are paying—$1.79 per square foot—could increase to the market rate of up to $12 per square foot.

In order for Linn County to stay at Westdale, we would need to purchase the former Steve and Barry's building at an estimated $3 million. Then, we would be required to bring the building up to code and renovate it for permanent office space at a cost of more than $15 million. This figure was provided to Linn County in a feasibility study conducted by Howard R. Green Company. If Linn County were to remain at Westdale Mall on a permanent basis, property taxes would increase to pay for the purchase and the renovation. And that is why the Board of Supervisors did not support that option.

This is also why we are enormously grateful to our legislators and Governor Culver for helping us meet our need for a permanent building without raising Linn County property taxes.

One flood-damaged building that will not be rebuilt is the Linn County Youth Shelter. The flood destroyed the building while at the same time utilization of the service was decreasing. The decrease in youth shelter services have been changing locally and nationwide in the last several years as increased efforts have been made to keep children and parents together and serve the young people in their homes. This has resulted in fewer Department of Human Services and juvenile court referrals to youth shelters and a decreased need for shelter beds.

These changing trends were happening just as Linn County was faced with the decision whether to rebuild a youth shelter to replace the one destroyed by the 2008 flood. At the direction of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, a committee of stakeholders and citizens was convened to assess the current and future trends and target population of the youth shelter program.

After many months of careful deliberation and research of utilization trends and projected needs, the committee recommended to the Board of Supervisors that Linn County discontinue the Youth Shelter program. The Linn County Youth Shelter Program will close on April 30 of this year. A plan is in place to transition the capacity for shelter care from the Linn County Youth Shelter to Foundation 2, another youth shelter in Cedar Rapids and Four Oaks, a human services agency that serves young people and their families in the area. I would like to thank all Youth Shelter workers who have helped Linn County youth through this program over the last 35 years. You have made a difference in many young lives.

Flood recovery successes in Linn County will be visible on the secondary road system starting this year. In 2009, voters approved a five-year local option sales tax. Linn County's portion of the tax replaced flood-related revenue shortfalls and flood-damaged property in the first year. During the last four years of the tax, from 2010-2014, at least ninety percent of the tax will be used for construction and maintenance of Linn County's secondary roads and bridges. The remaining amount will be used for conservation projects. We have maps here today that show the 2010 road construction projects as well as the projected projects that will be funded through the local option sales tax. These maps are also on Linn County's Secondary Road Department Web site.

Another success we are celebrating is Linn County's financial stability. Despite the financial challenges we faced as a result of the flood, Linn County maintained its Aaa bond rating – the highest rating possible. Our finance department continued to earn awards this year for Linn County's budget document, Popular Annual Financial Report and, for the twentieth consecutive year, Linn County was awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association.

We celebrate these successes while at the same time acknowledge that the flood and current economy continues to impact our finances with lower jail revenues and reduced earnings on interest rates.

Last fall, Linn County worked with the cities of Cedar Rapids and Palo and the Cedar Rapids School district to offer some financial relief to residents and businesses who lost the use of their property as a result of the flood by providing property tax abatements. The abatements totaled nearly $4 million.

In January, Linn County elected officials and department managers completed a strategic planning session and mapped out a new five-year strategic plan. Key focus areas include:

- Providing excellent customer service
- Increasing awareness of Linn County's services and programs
- Improving quality of life
- Participating in effective partnerships
- Creating a culture of ownership for county employees
- And demonstrating sound fiscal practices.

We welcome your feedback on how well you think we are meeting these goals.

We are also increasing our communication with the public with new and modern methods while not losing sight of the classic methods. You can now follow Linn County on Twitter. And, after almost six years of a static Web site, we are undergoing a Web site makeover that will make our site more visually interesting, more user-friendly and make information easier to find. The updates will include online sign-up for electronic newsletters so you can stay informed about county issues and news.

We expanded the reach of our printed annual report in December by including it in Linn County's four official county newspapers (The Gazette, Marion Times, Linn News-letter and Mount Vernon/Lisbon Sun). The annual report is also available on Linn County's Web site. We also value face-to-face communication with residents, so in addition to today's presentation, we are continuing our town hall style meetings this year throughout the county. We held our first town hall meeting of the year in Central City in February and will schedule more meetings in the coming months.

We had some successful partnerships this year, including our legislative partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids and the Chamber. We look forward to continuing this partnership and working together on state and federal priorities, including the Highway 100 extension.

We are meeting with large urban counties to discuss the merits of an urban county caucus for Iowa's larger counties. We have held several meetings with the Boards of Supervisors from Johnson and Black Hawk Counties to discuss both the urban county caucus and ways that we can work together to strengthen the I-380 Corridor.

As we move forward this year, we will continue our work on flood recovery for the entire community. We will continue our partnerships with the cities of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and other municipalities as well as the Chamber and Priority One so that we will have more successes to tell you about next year.

Before I conclude today, I must mention perhaps the most important success of all. And that's the way we – county staff, municipal staff, residents, business owners and the state government – worked together to recover from the devastating floods of 2008. During the added, draining work of flood recovery, nobody stopped doing the work they've always done. The complexities of flood recovery go beyond anything any of us ever imagined. Our challenge will be to keep the pace and to continue to work cooperatively under challenging circumstances until the final flood recovery milestone is met. It won't always be easy, but I believe we are up to the task. Thank you.

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