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Public Measure Question Could Bring Many Changes To County Government

What If???

October 11, 2012
Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

Editors' Note: This is the second installment of a story examining the public measure question being faced by Palo Alto County voters in the Nov. 6 election

by Dan Voigt

So would a reduction in the membership of the Board of Supervisors be an economic savings to the county taxpayers?

The answer to that question is

Maybe or maybe not.

According to Bill Peterson, Executive Director of the Iowa Association of Counties, in the last decade, the trend of counties has been to increase the size of a Board of Supervisors, rather than to decrease the membership.

"For the supervisors themselves, the few hours a week that the Board actually meets is a very small part of their job," Peterson said. "The majority of their time is spent serving on the various boards and committees that their county has a financial stake in. The counties that have increased their board membership from three supervisors to five have found that it's a better way to spread out the duties for the supervisors."

According to Peterson, one of the drawbacks of a three-member board of supervisors is the possibility of one member of the board being unable to serve for a period of time, perhaps due to an illness or absence. If such a situation should occur and an issue arises requiring action by the board, and the remaining two members have differing opinions, you have a recipe for gridlock.

"If your three-member board is suddenly down to two members, it certainly would make it very challenging for the board to operate," Peterson pointed out. "You really could end up in a stalemate for who knows how long.

While Peterson acknowledges that costs savings of fewer supervisors could be a strong argument for a reduction of membership, there is another aspect of that thought to examine.

"In most counties, the actual cost of those two salaries is not a real game-changer in terms of the financial health of a county," Peterson said. "And, if you only have three supervisors, it will require more travel for them to serve all of their assignments and duties, which translates into more expenses for travel and the like, too."

While Peterson notes that in the last decade, the number of counties with five supervisors has grown in the state, in comparison with counties having just three supervisors. Locally, Dickinson County increased its board size from three members to five members within the last decade. In the state of Iowa, out of 99 counties, a three-member Board of Supervisors governs 58 of the counties, while 41 counties utilize the five-member board alignment. In our immediate area, Pocahontas, Dickinson, Humboldt, Kossuth, Buena Vista, Clay and Emmet Counties join Palo Alto County in utilizing five-member boards of supervisors.

"The question of decreasing membership of the board of supervisors is truly a local decision," Peterson agreed. "In the end, the voters will either enjoy or regret their decision at the ballot box."

So what happens if the Public Measure receives a simple majority 51 percent approval of the votes cast - on Nov. 6?

The Iowa Code spells the process out. "If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition is in favor of the reduction to three members, the membership of the board shall remain at five until the first day in January which is not a Sunday or holiday following the next general election, at which time the terms of the five members shall expire."

The code goes on to state that "at the next general election following the one at which the proposition to reduce the membership of the board to three is approved, the membership of the board shall be elected according to the supervisor representation plan in effect in the county."

In regular language, the timeline for a reduction of the board of supervisors in Palo Alto County would go like this:

The board of supervisors would downsize to three members starting in 2015. However, in order to downsize, a new re-districting process would have to be completed to divide the county into three districts of equal populations roughly 3,140 residents per district.

But one question would also need to be answered if the board is reduced in size Under what form of representation should the supervisors serve?

Under the Code of Iowa, there are three plans for representation by county supervisors.

Plan 1: At Large - under Plan One, ALL electors in the county, regardless of where they or the supervisor live, elect all supervisors. The Supervisor is not required to reside in any specific supervisor district. Therefore, the top vote getters would be elected, regardless of where they live in the county.

Plan 2: At Large with Districts - Plan Two allows one supervisor to be elected from each supervisor district. Under Plan two all voters in the county cast votes for all supervisors, but only one person per Supervisor District can be elected. In this scenario, the top vote getter from each district would be elected to serve on the Board of Supervisors.

Plan 3: Elected by Districts - Under Plan Three, Palo Alto County is divided into Supervisor Districts as in plan two. However, voters are only permitted to vote for the candidate that lives in their Supervisor District, as is done now. Therefore, if a voter lives in Supervisor District Two, they could only vote for the candidates in District Two, and not in any other supervisor race in the county.

So, if the board were to be reduced as a result of the upcoming Nov. election, a decision would have to be made as to which plan the supervisors would represent the voters. Once the plan was determined, candidates would be able to file for the November 2014 General Election. Those three supervisors would be elected to take seats on the reduced board of supervisors on January 1, 2015 a full two years after the public measure is voted on.

To summarize, there is no simple answer to the Public Measure it is up to each voter to evaluate information and make an informed choice just like they would do when voting for any candidate for public office appearing on the ballots.

Every voter is reminded that not only is voting a privilege; it is also your civic duty. Remember to go to the polls and cast your ballots, either at the polls on Nov. 6, during satellite voting on Oct. 30, or through an absentee ballot. For more information or questions on voting or the election, contact the Palo Alto County Auditor's Office at 712-852-2924.



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