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Supervisors rescind decision on 'Slough Bill' tax exemptions

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Cherokee County Board of Supervisors did an about-face at their meeting on Monday and rescinded their recent decision on ending the long-standing tax exemption for property owners for land in the designated "Slough Bill," for at least one more year.

A special meeting was held to address several complaints the Board had recently received, along with the deadline on May 17 to certify to accept the recent bill.

Two weeks ago the Board denied a tax exemption for property owners for land in the designated "Slough Bill" that would have led to an $18,000 bounty for the Cherokee School District, and $8,000 in additional tax revenue for the County.

Originally derived from 1985 legislation enacted for wetlands identification and preservation, the 2010 "Slough Bill" was previously presented to the Board by Deputy County Assessor Nancy Nelson.

Noting that 44 Iowa counties no longer approve the tax exemption, Cherokee County joined other area counties in denying the tax exemption involving 2,149 acres in Cherokee County with a valuation of $1,141,265.

Accounting for those 2,149 acres were 57 landowners identifying various timber and recreational property ranging in size from one acre to 170 acres.

On May 4, the Board denied the tax exemption on a 3-1 vote, with Supervisor Jeff Simonsen voting for it "For one more year," and Supervisor Mark Leeds abstaining, saying he is one of the affected property owners with 11.97 Slough acres. Supervisors Terry Graybill, Dean Schmidt, and Larry Prunty voted to deny the exemption.

During this week's meeting the Board opened the floor to a group of concerned citizens made up of members of the Cherokee Soil & Water District, Cherokee County Conservation Department, and land owners who are enrolled in the "Slough Bill."

Jason Titcomb, Chairman of the Cherokee Soil & Water District Board, addressed the Board and asked it to reconsider the recent decision. Titcomb asked the Board for one year to get landowners who were interested in keeping the conservation program going and to work with owners who are in the program and get them reclassified or enrolled in other conservation programs so they wouldn't be a tax burden.

Also, a proposal was brought forth to see if the Iowa Department of National Resources (DNR) could reclassify land that is designated Open Prairie to Native Prairie and then qualify for state funding within 60 days. Currently, any land within the county designated as Native Prairie is eligible for tax reimbursement from the state and would get said tax revenue on the County books.

It was argued by the group that for what the County is losing in tax revenue was compensated by better water quality, wildlife and game growth, and lack of land erosion, including topsoil.

Supervisor Dean Schmidt asked the group how he should respond to the many phone calls he has been receiving on how the program doesn't work and is abused by some. Schmidt asked why some qualify for the program and other property owners don't. Schmidt's question was answered with the response of "education."

Informing the public of the environmental benefits, plus preserving the uniqueness of the area to help tourism, Schmidt asked the group if they would be up to the challenge of educating the public and landowners. If they were, he would consider making a motion to rescind the previous decision.

The group accepted. It was also noted by the Board that many of the residents who are against this bill are thinking with their pocket books and if this issue was on the General Ballot it was their belief that the bill would not pass.

The motion to rescind was made by Schmidt and seconded by Supervisor Larry Prunty. Schmidt, Prunty, Graybill and Simonsen all voted "Aye" to rescind the Board's previous motion. Supervisor Leeds was absent from the meeting, but had abstained in the original vote because he said he owned land included in the proposed Slough Bill.

The Board's next motion was to approve the 2010 Slough Bill on clarification that if by this time next year the public does not favor the bill, that it would be denied. Schmidt brought forth the motion and it was seconded by Graybill. Schmidt, Prunty, Graybill and Simonsen all voted "Aye" to approve the 2010 Slough Bill.

In other business Cherokee County Community Services Director Lisa Langlitz presented the Board with her projected Fiscal Year 2011 Case Management Cost Report. The report is estimated at $15.20 per unit. It is estimated that there will be 69 billable units for 2011 Fiscal Year.

The Board also approved five wage authorizations for the Cherokee Conservation Department Summer Aides ranging from $9 per hour to $9.50.

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