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Petition Drive Underway For Ballot Question

By Staff | Dec 20, 2011

A petitions drive has begun in Palo Alto County in the past few days to try and place a question on the 2012 General Election ballot in the county. The petition asks voters to support a ballot question for the reduction of the membership of the County Board of Supervisors from five members down to three.

Petition drives such as the current one are often misunderstood by the voters in this case, there are those who area under the impression that their signatures will actually reduce the board of supervisors’ membership. In all actuality, the petitions drive, if enough signatures are obtained, would merely put the reduction question on the ballot for all Palo Alto County residents to cast a yes or no vote on in November of next year.

So what is driving the petition drive for the reduction of the size of the Board of Supervisors?

There are a couple of factors that are being cited by organizers of the drive as the reason of bringing the idea to the voters.

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 recently 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 has to have as close to equal population as is possible, with the average population of a supervisor district being 1,884 people after the 2010 Census, under the latest re-districting.

The argument is being made that with a declining population, there is no need to have five supervisors, when three supervisors can represent the population just as well. However, a reduction in the size of the board would necessitate a new re-districting effort to create three equal representation districts. With equal representation, each supervisor district, under a three-supervisor plan, would consist of 3,140 residents.

A second argument is financially based. For the current fiscal year, each elected Supervisor receives a salary of $24,368. 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.

Organizers contend the elimination of two supervisor positions, at an average cost of $38,336 each, could save the taxpayers $76,672 yearly.

The question becomes, how could this occur?

The current petition drive addresses Iowa Code Chapter 331.204, which spells out the procedure for a reduction in membership of the Board of Supervisors.

The Code states “..the board may, by resolution, or shall upon petition of the number of eligible electors of the county as specified in Section 331.306, submit to the registered voters of the county at a general election a proposition to reduce the number of supervisors to three. 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.”

With the Code in mind, the timeline for such a change in Palo Alto County could go like this:

If enough signatures were obtained on the petition drive – with the “magic number” being 391 eligible electors – the question to reduce the number of supervisors from five to three would appear on the November 2012 General Election ballot. If the reduction question receives a simple majority 51 percent approval of the votes cast the board would downsize to three members starting in 2015.

Then, in the November 2014 General Election, three supervisors would be elected to take seats on the reduced board of supervisors on Jan. 1, 2015.

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.