State of the County
State of the County Address
Presented March 5, 2020 - Ames Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County
State of the Community Event
Thank you for this opportunity to share what is going on in Story County government.
As we know the population of Story County is verging on 100,000. About one third of that population lives outside of Ames – and nearly 10% lives in the unincorporated areas of the county – a larger population than any of the other towns in Story County. And the unincorporated areas are growing rapidly.
This rapid growth throughout the county places additional demands upon county services.
- Our roads and bridges are bearing more traffic.
- We have additional people throughout in the county who rely on us for public safety.
- Our Auditor’s Office is managing more elections, processing more voter registrations and helping more people cast their ballots.
- Our Planning and Development Department is processing an increasing number of applications for residential subdivisions.
- And many other departments also are serving more residents.
As we crafted our budget for the upcoming fiscal year (to begin July 1, 2020), we looked carefully at these needs as well as our current spending trends. I’m glad to report to you that our Department Heads and Elected Officials were very fiscally responsible in their requests. We spent most of January reviewing budget requests, comparing expense requests to three-year averages as well as spending so far this year, trimming when necessary and carefully reviewing requests for additional funding.
Government’s job is to keep us safe, use our tax dollars wisely and provide opportunity. I believe we accomplished all three of these goals. We were able to fund three new employment positions to help deal with the increased demand for county services, plus increase funding for some essential services. Currently we have 290 employees, so this constitutes a 1% increase in our workforce.
One new Deputy in the Sheriff’s Office will help the Sheriff’s Office schedule additional coverage for the increased residential developments in the unincorporated areas as well as helping ensure safety for rural residents. It will increase the number of deputies available for patrol from 15 to 16. This new position will allow an additional deputy on the busier shifts.
We also reinstated a Victim Witness Coordinator for the County Attorney’s Office. This position provides a dedicated employee to assist crime victims and is a more cost-effective approach than using higher-paid attorney time.
We also added an Elections Systems Technician in the Auditor’s Office. Elections become increasingly more complex as additional security measures are taken, both by the Story County Auditor and by the Iowa Secretary of State. In addition, Story County saw a 25% increase in over-the-counter voting in 2018. The Auditor is predicting issuing around 30,000 absentee ballots for this year’s General Election and are preparing for voter turnout exceeding 70%. Accessible and secure voting are essential to our democracy, so we see this additional position as a wise investment of your tax dollars.
And, while it is not an increase in permanent staff as such, we were able to increase hours for our Planning and Development intern.
Roads and Bridges will also receive attention. Even if you live in a town, you probably travel over county roads and bridges – to get your place of employment, to the interstate, or to shop, dine or recreate in another community. And you will use county roads and bridges when you visit all but a few of our 37 county parks and recreation areas.
In addition to paving more roads this next year, we also budgeted money for replacing bridges, and additional crushed rock for secondary roads. Story County recently bonded for $7.6 million for road paving and bridge projects. We are re-paving or paving numerous roads (and bike trails) in the upcoming year through a variety of funding sources, including bonding, local road funding and conservation funds.
Southern part of county:
535th Avenue, south of Ames between Slater and Huxley – This road is currently gravel and is part of Heart of Iowa Nature Trail. This road connects the trails we paved last year.
A new section of the Heart of Iowa trail between Huxley and Cambridge
A new bike trail, in south Ames, will connect TELC with the Heart of Iowa Trail and the High Trestle Trail
560th Avenue North of Highway 210 (paving in conjunction with City of Huxley)
Northern part of county:
Prairie Rail Trail from Highway 65 into Zearing
Timberland Drive (paving in conjunction with Story City)
County Road E-18, from Hwy 69 to Roland
Hickory Grove Park:
Re-paving of county roads on the perimeter – and we hope to get to some interior road improvements yet this year as well.
Also, we will repair or replace several bridges in rural areas.
In addition, Story County is one of the funders of social services agencies through the ASSET process. For FY 21, we increased our investment in ASSET by 5%, or $55,000. This will provide additional funding to the 29 agencies funded through ASSET.
And we are doing all of this while lowering the property tax rate.
- For City Residents: from $5.13 to $5.02 per $1000 of taxable valuation.
- For Rural Residents: from $8.37 to $8.27 per $1000 of taxable valuation.
The amount of taxes we will collect for county government services (tax levy) goes up from $28,492,013 to $29,251,843 (2.67%) because of increased property valuation. For Story County (except Ames) the assessed value went up 4.2% and the taxable value went up 8.93%.
We also collect and disburse property taxes for all Story County entities (cities, schools, townships). Even though you make your payment to Story County, the highest portion of property taxes – 46% - goes to schools, followed by cities and towns at 25% and the County at 17%.
Some of the other projects we are working on include:
- Through StoryComm, a collaborative project of Story County, the City of Ames and ISU, we are moving to a new and improved public safety radio system.
- The Board is conducting a County-wide Housing Study.
- A work group made up of Story County employees is reviewing and working on implementing the recommendations included in the Countywide Watershed Assessment completed in 2018.
- We have adopted a new Mission Statement for Story County Government
- We are diligently preparing for the possibility of COVID – 19 causing disruptions to County operations.
We anticipate that dealing with COVID-19 will occupy the majority of our time in the next few months. Story County government has begun preparedness planning, with the goals of continuing to provide essential services to the public while keeping the residents and employees of Story County safe and well. We are fortunate to have good emergency planning already done which will assist us in meeting this challenge.
Linda Murken, Chairperson
Story County Board of Supervisors
Chair - Story County Board of Supervisors