Editor's Note: The following is the first of two stories looking into the upcoming Nov. 6 election and an important question for the voters of Palo Alto County. The second installment of this story will appear in Thursday's issue of The Democrat.
by Dan Voigt
With early voting now underway for the Nov. 6 General Elections, there are many voters who have already cast their absentee ballots early. But there are also many who will wait until Tuesday, Nov. 6, to cast their ballot on Election Day.
Regardless of when one casts their ballot, there is a public measure question on the Palo Alto County ballot for all electors to consider.
Public Measure A: "Should the number of supervisors on the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors be reduced from its current number of five (5) members to three (3) members?"
The question earned a place on the ballot after a petition drive earlier this year obtained over 400 signatures from county residents. The original petition drive that led to the ballot question cited two main reasons to consider the change.
The first reason is directly related to the outcome of the 2010 Census. Palo Alto County, during the 2000 Census, had a population of 10,147 people. But in the 2010 Census, Palo Alto County had lost 726 residents, 9.28 percent, down to a level of 9,421 residents.
Under Federal and State law, every 10 years, to coincide with the Census, representation districts must be re-drawn to assure equal representation for residents by their respective federal, state and county governing bodies. Palo Alto County Supervisors approved a re-districting plan that was created by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency after Palo Alto County submitted three plans for re-districting, which were all rejected by the Iowa Secretary of State.
Each of the county's five supervisor districts must have as close to equal population as is possible, by law, with the average population of a supervisor district being 1,884 people after the 2010 Census, under the latest re-districting.
One of the arguments for the Public Measure is that with a declining population, there is no need to have five supervisors, when three supervisors can represent the population just as well.
A second argument is financially based. For the current fiscal year, each elected Supervisor receives a salary of $24,734. Along with the salary, each supervisor also receives family insurance coverage, which is furnished by the county, at a cost of $13,968 yearly per supervisor. Additionally, Supervisors receive mileage when they attend meetings on various boards and commissions, which they are assigned to serve on each year. Proponents of the public measure contend the elimination of two supervisor positions, at an average cost of $38,702 each, could save the taxpayers at least $77,404 yearly.
While at first glance, the idea of reducing the size of the Board of Supervisors might appear to be a financial "no-brainer" for some, a more in-depth look could prove otherwise.
The first question one must ask when objectively considering the public measure is simple - Can three supervisors do the same job of adequately representing the residents of the county that five supervisors are currently doing?
That question is the most difficult to answer. Each week, the board meets in a regular session on Tuesday morning at the courthouse. But, the Supervisors also must serve on a wide variety and number of boards and committees by virtue of their positions. As an example, Palo Alto County is a member of Seasons Center for Mental Health in Spencer. The Board of Directors of Seasons is comprised of two members from each member county meaning Palo Alto County has two supervisors that must attend Seasons meetings, which are held monthly, and sometimes more often if the need arises.
Supervisors also serve on advisory boards for a 14-county mental health contracting consortium, as well as a Regional Housing Authority, Upper Des Moines Opportunity the Tri-county Solid Waste board, Regional Transit Authority, Empowerment Board, North Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Center and North Central Iowa Hazardous Materials Board, just to name a few. These meetings take place all over the region, from Cherokee to Eldora, or Spencer to Mason City, for example.
And, since Palo Alto County has numerous drainage districts, the supervisors are charged by the Code of Iowa to act as district trustees. When a resident requests some type of drainage relief or a repair to a drainage district, there are countless hearings and meetings on drainage problems and projects, not only here in Palo Alto County, but also in neighboring counties, as there are several joint drainage districts in which the governing authority is shared between two or three boards of supervisors.
Last but not least, the supervisors must be accessible to their constituents which usually means a phone call or a visit with the supervisor at their home or at the constituent's, no matter the time of day or day of the week.