3 ways to save money in county budget

Let’s be honest, if there’s one thing Democrats are criticized for, it’s our perceived love for spending tax dollars. Here’s the funny thing: A lot of what I hope to achieve as a county supervisor just might result in the county saving money, as well as reducing our carbon footprint and keeping people out of the criminal justice system.

So far this primary season there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about how the candidates plan to save money and use tax dollars more efficiently, so I thought I’d get the ball rolling with three ideas I have to save money for Johnson County.

1. Purchase Chevy Volts to replace our aging vehicle stock. 

Chevrolet Volt
Chevrolet Volt

The first one is easy. According to Supervisor Mike Carberry, the county is in the market for new fleet vehicles. Replacing gas-powered cars with Volts could potentially save a lot of cash. In addition, I recommend that the county install solar-powered charging stations, both to charge the fleet cars but to also offer to the community for use.

Why Volts? I’ll explain, but the fact that they’re American cars should be enough to start.

I drive a Volt and would highly recommend them for fleet vehicles. New Volts have an electric range of upward of 50 miles — more than enough for around-the-county trips. Volts are Extended Range Electric Vehicles, which means it has a gas engine that will power the electric motor for up to 300 miles when the battery runs out.

I purchase gas once every two to three months. If county vehicles see a similar rate of consumption, the savings compared to what the county currently spends for fleet vehicles will be huge. Add in the savings realized by powering the charging stations with solar and we’re really in business.

2. We need to help preserve our agricultural neighborhoods.

Over the past half-century, we have watched as housing has pushed out into our agricultural areas. This causes a lot of problems, including taking farmland out of production and encroaching on our natural areas, but what often goes unnoticed is the cost associated with extending into the county, including extension of county infrastructure such as sheriff and ambulance service and less road construction.

The county land use plan is up for review and revision. Those elected will have a say in how we develop in the county for the next 10 years. It’s important we elect people who will shrink the areas where we can build residential homes, not only to protect the land and our farmers but to save our valuable tax dollars for better use.

3. Less incarceration and prosecution for marijuana offenses.

We need to make marijuana offenses civil-penalty tickets. Currently in Johnson County, when a person is arrested for marijuana possession they are inserted into our jail system and our county attorney’s office is engaged with a new court case, siphoning time and labor for minor cases that could be used more efficiently.

It’s no secret that our county jail is overburdened. Any reduction in load would result in cost, time and labor savings. The same goes for the county attorney’s office. Each new arrest results in a court case for that office.

In addition, the families of the offenders are impacted by cost, which can be more burden than many families can bear. It can cost a family thousands to mount a defense in court.

By making minor marijuana offenses civil-penalty tickets we will still punish the offenders and add revenue through fines, but we will also lessen the burden on our services and our community for a crime that many communities already treat as a “catch and release” offense. That will leave our law enforcement officers freer to do their work and will lighten the workload for our county attorney’s office, resulting again in cost savings for the county.

With the switch from Medicare to Managed Care, it’s likely the county will bear the burden when there are gaps in care. We need to proactively tighten our belts. We need to get the best value for every tax dollar, and supervisors make that happen. These changes will decrease our burden on the environment, make us better neighbors, and improve our justice system. Let’s get to work.

 

This piece originally appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

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