State of the County
State of the County Address
A new year brings new faces, new roles and new ideas to Story County. Yet some of the work that we undertake during 2019 is based upon initiatives begun in 2018 or earlier.
As the new chairperson of the Board of Supervisors, I welcome newly elected officials County Supervisor, Linda Murken of Gilbert and County Treasurer, Ted Rasmusson of Colo.
We are already creating connections with our County’s other elected officials Supervisor Rick Sanders, Auditor Lucy Martin, County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, Recorder Stacie Herridge and Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald to support the County’s dedicated, efficient workforce.
You can learn about some of the County’s previous priorities and projects by reading our 2018 Annual Report. We have distributed paper copies to all of the city halls and libraries in the county. It also can be found online at http://www.storycountyiowa.gov/1150/Annual-Reports.
Our successes last year ranged from partnering with our mental health region, Central Iowa Community Services, and Mary Greeley Medical Center to create a crisis stabilization and transitional living center to getting our first look at the assessment of the Story County’s smaller watersheds commissioned by the previous Board of Supervisors.
Watersheds and Sensitive Areas
This year, we will map out a plan and activate its first steps to keep our ecologically sensitive areas safe, improve the quality of our local lakes, ponds, creeks, and prevent contamination of those watersheds. In an effort to do this, the Board will consider funding a watershed coordinator and passing an ordinance that sets stricter standards in controlling stormwater flow in rural developments.
The consultant surveying sensitive areas will continue working with rural property owners, especially farmers, to identify patches of ground hosting rare native insects, animals and plants in hopes we can discourage land use activities that would damage or destroy these areas and their native inhabitants.
We also expect to continue the dialogue about the State’s permitting process for confined animal feeding operations in relation to combining Story County’s strong agricultural base with citizens’ widespread desire to improve water quality and foster a healthy natural environment.
Last winter, the County hosted a workshop with several experts on scoring the DNR’s voluntary review system – the Master Matrix – to determine what flexibility the County had in scoring it.
This year, we are holding a special evening meeting to collect citizen input on the Master Matrix as we consider calling upon the State of Iowa to make changes to the Master Matrix.
Walkers, runners and bicyclists should have a couple new miles of paved trails this fall to enjoy Story County’s beautiful countryside. There will be paving projects on a segment of the Praeri Rail Trail near Dakins Lake in Zearing and on a segment of the Heart of Iowa Natural Trail between Slater and Huxley.
The County will also open its park at the ISU Research Park. Named the Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor, the park includes a new paved trail that will hook up with the Heart of Iowa Natural Trail via a few miles riding on County Road R-38 on the southwest part of Ames.
Gender-balance for local boards and commissions has been State law since 2012. Story County, however, has yet to achieve compliance of almost equal numbers (3 – 2; 4 – 3) of male and female members on each of its boards and commissions at one time.
After a concentrated effort started last fall and continuing this winter to solicit qualified female candidates, we expect to be 100 percent compliant this spring as we fill vacant seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Health and Veteran Affairs Commission. If you are interested or know someone who might be, please contact us.
Our remodeled animal shelter is expected to host a ribbon cutting in late winter or early spring. Baffle paneling in the dog area and a cat room with lots of light and a shared play area offer the animals a less stressful environment, which has led to cat adoptions occurring again after a three–month drought.
We continue our commitment to fund community supports and individual needs for those who require help. The Board of Supervisors has already committed to over $1 million dollars in funding for youth, family and low-income assistance programs eligible via the ASSET joint-funding collaboration.
Story County continues to seek partners who can collaborate to resolve the ongoing shortages of affordable housing and difficulties in accessing reliable rural transportation.
Preliminary Budget Numbers
Story County continues to be financially healthy with a projected ending general fund balance – our cash reserves – of 25% of our expenses. This amount is needed to meet the County’s cash flow needs until property taxes are due in September. Budget workshops for FY20 have just begun, but preliminary estimations show our expenses are expected to be $41 million. Of that amount, approximately $28 million is expected to come from local property taxes.
Land valuations subject to County property tax levies top $6 billion. The levy rates will not be finalized and certified with the State until mid-March.
Maintaining healthy reserve balances will be important as Story County is forecasting some large one-time expenditures in 2020.
We expect to need at least $3M to pay the County’s portion of an $11 to $12 million price tag to create a new interoperable radio system for law enforcement, first responders and other essential service providers in Story County.
Paying cash would drop our reserve funds below the preferred 25%, so as of the time this article was written, the Supervisors are considering bonding for the $3M.
The County’s general debt will be paid in full this year, and rather than letting our debt service levy expire completely, the debt service levy rate could be reduced with a $3M bond.
Economic development opportunities appear to be ramping up faster than anticipated, so the Board of Supervisors may also consider bonding to pave three rural roads tied to business growth areas in Ames, Huxley and Nevada. If we do that, the debt service levy rate would stay very close to what is now.
I hope what you’ve read assures you that the County’s assets, the County’s services and the County’s future are overseen by responsible, vigilant public servants and elected officials.
On behalf of the County’s 250 employees, thank you for giving us the honor of serving you.
Lauris Olson, Chairperson
Story County Board of Supervisors
Chair - Story County Board of Supervisors