Archive for the ‘Budgets’ Category

Post election audits are going to cost you

April 6, 2017

The post-election audits required by the proposed Iowa House File #516 are going to cost you. In Linn and Johnson Counties, the estimated costs to conduct a post-election audit (hand-count) on ballots in the counties’ absentee precincts would  have  exceeded $19K, i.e., based upon the 2016 presidential election results.

Hopefully, absentee precincts will not be audited frequently, but when it occurs, it will be expensive.  And large counties with lots of precincts are likely to be audited more often if precincts are randomly selected versus counties being randomly selected.

This is could be yet another unfunded mandate courtesy of the Iowa Secretary of State, Legislature, and Governor.  -Joel D. Miller

Johnson County Absentees Cost Cost Per Ballot
41,795 $ 19,225.70 $ 0.460
Linn County Absentees Cost
42,170 $ 19,398.20


Voting equipment is expensive

April 4, 2017

Prior to June 2016, Linn County purchased new voting equipment and used it in the 2016 primary and general elections. As I indicated in my March 7th blog post and during my public testimony to the Iowa House State Government Committee that equipment cost over $834K. The attachment provides a breakdown of the line items included in the $834K cost for Linn County’s 86 precincts.

If you voted at the polls on either election day in 2016, you ballot was scanned and your votes counted by our new precinct scanners. If you voted absentee, then your ballot was scanned and your votes counted by our new high speed ballot scanners.

I think I thanked you at last year’s State of the County luncheon, but if you did not attend that event, then Thank You taxpayers for providing the funding for this new equipment! Administering elections costs thousands of tax dollars. And based upon the election legislation pending in the Legislature, our costs are going to increase in the future. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Equipment Cost.pdf

$8K budgeted to raise the High Water Rock

January 31, 2017

[Update per @Jay_Vavra : The Rock is owned by the State of Iowa]

Evidently, the Flood of 2016 moved the High Water Rock in the Cedar River and the Linn County Board of Supervisors wants it restored to its original height/location. Yesterday, on a 5-0 vote, the Board tentatively approved $8,000 in its FY2018 budget to restore the Rock.

We’re waiting for the Feds to release millions of dollars for flood protection for Cedar Rapids. What message are we sending to the Feds when we allocate tax dollars to restore a rock in the middle of a river? -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Preliminary List Approved Offers.pdf

Still plenty of time to comment on FY2017 budget priorities

November 20, 2015

The Linn County Board of Supervisors met at 5pm yesterday (11/19/2015) to discuss the County’s FY2017 budget, i.e., the budget for the period that begins 1 July 2016 and ends 30 June 2017.  This was a time for the public to offer comments on the County’s tax levy (too high, too low, or just right), on programs to be cut or expanded, or on employee wages/salaries/benefits.  No member of the public made a comment on the preceding items; however, several people made pitches for their organizations.

The budget process for FY2017 is just beginning so the public has lots of opportunities to give its opinion as to what the priorities should be for County tax dollars.   Unfortunately, with few exceptions, those meetings are held in the mornings, which may conflict with your work schedule if you work days.  Written correspondence to the Board or to individual Supervisors is placed into the public record that comprises the Board  meeting minutes at the discretion of the Board.  If you want to be assured that your public comments are entered in the public record, e.g., into the official publications of the County, you MUST attend the Board meetings in person and make your comments during the public comment periods.

Here’s the video of the Board meeting on the FY2017 budget: 

Where’s the junk?

January 30, 2014

On 1/17/2014, I submitted my budget to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for the fiscal year beginning on 7/1/2014.  It was 18 pages long and contained vision and mission statements, goals, and examples of how the employees in the Office of Linn County Auditor had implemented my goals and Linn County’s Strategic Goals (approved by the BOS).  I provided an executive summary, historical employment figures, discussed span of control, provided a table showing the budget trends, and meticulously described the assumptions I had used for requesting funding for next year.  All five Supervisors were present for my review along with the Finance Director, the Budget Director, and some of my employees.  This year’s budget review – even though it was about two hours long – showed little of the contentiousness of last year’s budget review.

In addition to the budget, I submitted five offers, i.e., requests for additional funding from the BOS.  I prioritized them in order of need, e.g., my top priority was for an additional full-time employee (real estate specialist) in the Real Estate Services department.  I explained the reasons why we needed the employee and I thought a majority of the BOS “got it” and might support my request.  But I was wrong.  Something happened in between my budget review with the BOS and when they made their final decisions on the requests for additional funding.  My top priority did not receive one vote of support from a Supervisor.

In Iowa, the Office of County Auditor, serves and protects two basic rights which differentiate the USA from many other countries.  Those are the right to vote and the right to own property.  Auditors serve as County Commissioners of Elections and County Voter Registrars.  We administer elections and preserve the integrity of the voting process.  We are the official map makers of our counties.  We ensure the names on the deeds are correct.  We ensure that the property description on the deed is accurate.  We preserve the integrity of the real estate records transaction system so that the tax bill goes to the correct person(s) for the correct property.  Our diligence ensures that the property is assessed correctly and taxed correctly.  These are duties of the Auditor.  In Iowa, they are not performed by any other office or officer.

On 1/29/2014, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson is quoted in The Gazette as saying, “I’m going to make sure he has enough money to do the real thing, but not all the other junk he does.”

At the conclusion of my budget review on 1/17/2014, the Board voted to reduce my budget by $70K – none of which they referred to as junk.  My budget request for next year is now $14K under the BOS’s and Budget Director’s guideline for my Office.

From FY2008 through FY2013, I returned $1.936M in unspent funds to Linn County’s General Fund on appropriations that never exceeded $2.880M in any given year.

I invest in employees.   I invest in tools that help my employees do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.  I invest in providing better services to residents.  I invest time and money into ensuring my office and all County offices are being good stewards of tax dollars.  I don’t spend money on junk.

Take a look at my budget.  If you find any “junk” in my budget, please let me know.  I can be reached at 

Supervisors’ pay

February 27, 2013

Last week, Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers filed several emails into the Board of Supervisors official public records.  The County Auditor is the lawful custodian of the records provided by and made public by the Board.  Here are several related to the Board’s decision to give itself a pay raise.

Have reporters become PR agents for the Board?

October 22, 2012

I realize it’s popular these days to bash sitting county auditors, but reporter Gregg Hennigan’s story – see – on Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett portrays a violation of a Board of Supervisors policy, procedure, or protocol as being against the law when no law was broken.

Once a Board approves an elected official’s budget, the Board has NO statutory authority to exercise any additional control over the official’s budget UNLESS the elected official consents to the Board’s authority.  And further, after approving a line item budget, the Board CANNOT refuse a claim submitted by an elected official even if the claim exceeds the budget of the line item.  And finally, the elected official does NOT have to disclose which line item he took the funds from in order to pay the claim.

The preceding paragraph can be confirmed by reading Opinion #86-6-3(L), which can be found in the Opinions of the Office of the Iowa Attorney General – see

Here’s an excerpt from that opinion.  My emphasis is indicated in bold:

This office has reviewed the authority of the board of supervisors over the county budget process on numerous occasions. See Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3; 1982 Op.Att’yGen. 389; 1982 Op.Att’yGen. 389; 1980 Op.Att’yGen. 664; 1968 Op.Att’yGen. 614. A review of these opinions reveals several relevant principles which can be summarized as follows:


1. The county board of supervisors is vested with considerable authority over the county budget process. However, once the budgets submitted by other county officers are reviewed and approved by the supervisors, there is no statutory authority for the supervisors to exercise any additional control over the budgets of elected county officials. The supervisors have the right to ensure that claims submitted by elected county officials are within that official’s approved budget, but they have no right to refuse claims that are within the budget and for a legitimate purpose. 1980 Op.Att’yGen. 664.


2. After approving a line item budget, the supervisors cannot refuse a claim submitted by an elected county officer on the ground that the claim exceeds the amount appropriated for the particular line category which that claim falls within. [FN1] Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3.


3. While the supervisors control the total amount of money appropriated to an elected county office, there is no express statutory authority which would allow the supervisors to exercise further control over particular expenditures from the budgets of elected county officers. Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3.


4. Authority over personnel matters relating to deputies and assistants resides with the elected principals unless a statute expressly gives authority to the board of supervisors. McMurray v. Board of Supervisors of Lee County, 261 N.W.2d 688, 691 (Iowa 1978).


5. Although the supervisors may exercise a significant degree of control over elected county officers’ budgets prior to the budget’s final adoption, once the budget is final, the supervisors’ authority is significantly curtailed. Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3.

Mr. Hennigan and his peers need to start doing their homework when writing about which Board policies apply to elected officials and which ones apply to the departments reporting directly to the Board.  There’s a huge difference and the media needs to make the differentiation if they are going to write the stories.

Quit publicly humiliating elected officials who don’t follow Board policies that never applied to those elected officials in the first place.

If county auditors, attorneys, sheriffs, recorders, and treasurers reported to Boards of Supervisors, then none of those positions would be on the ballot.

And reporters should stop writing stories as if they are public relations agents  for the Board of Supervisors.  How about reviewing the applicable laws and legal opinions before writing a story?

Or maybe just ask the question:  Were any laws violated?  Is that too much to ask?  ###

Midwestern Disaster Area bonds for PCI – Q and As

June 3, 2011
Last week, I had a citizen inquire about Linn County issuing bonds for the PCI medical mall project.  I could not answer the citizen’s questions so I asked a local attorney for answers.  Here are the questions and answers:
1. What is the County’s role in the Midwestern Disaster Area bonds?
The County does not guarantee them with tax dollars.  The County serves as the “conduit” issuer pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 419. In this role, the County is the necessary governmental body in the transaction as part of the tax-exempt bond issuance process (a governmental body must be the issuer to permit tax-exemption on the bonds). The County has no liability for any payments due on the bonds and the governing documents make it clear (as does Chapter 419) that the only funds available to repay the bonds are funds from the project and its owners / guarantors.  The County is in no way liable for any payments on the bonds (thus, no future taxes or assessments or other County funds will be used to pay debt service on the bonds). In summary, this is basically a commercial loan transaction from the bank (bondholder) to the borrower with the County acting as the necessary governmental issuer at the inception of the deal.  
Prior to issuance, the project must receive an allocation of authority to issue the Midwestern Disaster Area (“MDA”) bonds from the Iowa Finance Authority. Notwithstanding the MDA nature of these bonds, the process under Chapter 419 is similar to other non-MDA conduit bond issues for manufacturing projects.  The difference is the MDA law allows a broader category of projects to access tax-exempt bonds.
2. What happens if someone defaults?
If there is a default in payment, the bank (bondholder) will look to its negotiated security in the deal including any mortgage, guaranties, and security interest in revenues of the project. The negotiated security under the bond and loan documents is the sole recourse for the bank on the transaction. Pursuant to the documents, the bank has no ability to seek funds or a tax levy from the County.
If you have additional questions, I will attempt to provide answers on this blog.  The Linn County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the issuance of the bonds to PCI at 10am on June 15th in the Boardroom at Linn County West.

County money

October 8, 2010

This week, I have been doing lots of research and having lots of conversations on the topic of “county money” as defined in the Code of Iowa.  As with anything related to the County, it’s always more complicated than you might think.

For example, over the last three plus years, I have noticed there are at least three distinct camps when it comes to the Code:  those that think it’s a suggestion book, those that interpret it one way on one day and another way the next day, and those that think it should be adhered to and if you don’t like it, then lobby the Legislature/Governor to get it changed.  Guess which camp I’m in?

Here are some Code sections I found or that I was directed to along with a few other tidbits I may use in the future.  I’m posting this information because I know if I don’t, then someone will ask me for it in a week and I’ll have to go through the whole process of finding it again.  Just this past week, I’ve directed a 2-3 people to this blog for data I posted months ago.

Alas, this is a work in progress so don’t be surprised if the content changes from time to time.

331.552 – The treasurer shall:  (1) Receive all money payable to the county unless otherwise provided by law.  (2) Disburse money owed or payable by the county on warrants or checks drawn and signed by the auditor and sealed with the official county seal.  (3) Keep a true account of all receipts and disbursements of the county, which account shall be available for inspection by the board at any reasonable time.

331.402(2) – The board may (e) authorize the auditor to issue checks in lieu of warrants.  The checks shall be charged directly against a bank account controlled by the county treasurer[added 13 October 2010]

331.902(1) – … the fees and other charges collected by the auditor, treasurer, recorder, and sheriff … belong to the county.

64.2 – All other public officers, except as otherwise specially provided,
shall give bond with the conditions, in substance, as follows:  That as [Supervisor, Auditor, Attorney, Sheriff, Recorder, Treasurer] in Linn County, the officer will render a true account of the office and of the officer’s doings therein to the proper authority, when required thereby or by law; that the officer will promptly pay over to the officer or person entitled thereto all moneys which may come into the officer’s hands by virtue of the office; that the officer will promptly account for all balances of money remaining in the officer’s hands at the termination of the office …. [added 11 October 2010]

331.902(3) – Each elective officer … shall make a quarterly report to the board ….  The officer shall pay at least quarterly to the county treasurer the fees and charges collected ….

331.901(5) – A county or township officer … shall not appropriate, give, or loan public funds to or in favor of an institution, school, association, or object which is under ecclesiastical or sectarian management or control.

331.605A – … The treasurer, on behalf of the recorder, shall establish and maintain a county recorder’s records management fund ….

331.605B(1) – The recorder shall make available any information required by the county or state auditor concerning the fees collected under section 331.605A ….

331.605C(3) – The treasurer, on behalf of the recorder, shall establish and maintain a county recorder’s electronic transaction fund ….

331.605C(5) – The recorder shall make available any information required by the county auditor or auditor of state concerning the fees collected under this section ….

331.655(3) – The sheriff shall keep an accurate record of fees collected in the county system, make a quarterly report of the fees collected to the board, and pay the fees belonging to the county into the county treasury as provided in section 331.902.  [added 11 October 2010] 

445.1(3) – “County system” means a method of data storage and retrieval as approved by the auditor of state including, but not limited to tax lists, books, records, indexes, registers, or schedules.  [added 11 October 2010]

331.756(7) – The county attorney shall give advice or written opinion … to the board and other county officers … upon any matters in which the … county … is interested, or relating to the duty of the officer in any matters in which the … county … may have an interest ….

331.756(9) – The county attorney shall give a receipt to all persons from whom the county attorney receives money in an official capacity and file a duplicate receipt with the county auditor.

331.504 – The auditor shall maintain the books and records required to be kept by the board under section 331.303.

331.303(1) – The board shall keep record books as follows:  (b) A “warrant book” which records each warrant drawn in the order of issuance by number, date, amount, and name of drawee, and refers to the order in the minute book authorizing its drawing.  The board may authorize the auditor to issue checks in lieu of warrants.  If the issuance of checks is authorized, the word “check” shall be substituted for the word “warrant” in those sections of this chapter and chapters 6B, 11, 35B, 336, 349, 350, 427B, and 468 in which the issuance of a check is authorized in lieu of a warrant. (c)  A “claim register” which records all claims for money filed against the county.  Claims shall be numbered consecutively in order of filing and entered alphabetically by the claimant’s name.  The claim register shall show the date of filing, the number of the claim and its general nature, and the action of the board on the claim including the fund against which it is allowed.  The claims allowed at each meeting shall be listed in the minute book by claim number.

331.506(5) – An officer certifying an erroneous bill or claim against the county is liable on the officer’s official bond for a loss to the county resulting from the error.  [added 11 October 2010]

64.8 – The bonds of members of the boards of supervisors, county    attorneys, recorders, auditors, sheriffs, and assessors shall each be in a penal sum of not less than twenty thousand dollars.  The amount of each bond shall be determined by the board of supervisors.  [added 11 October 2010]

331.303(2) – The board shall maintain its records in accordance with chapter 22.

22.2(1) – Every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate a public record or the information contained in a public record.  [added 12 October 2010]   

331.303(5) – The board shall select official newspapers and cause official publications to be made in accordance with chapters 349 and 618.

349.18(1) – All proceedings of each regular, adjourned, or special meeting of a board of supervisors, including the schedule of bills allowed, shall be published immediately after the adjournment of the meeting.

349.18(2) – The publication of the schedule of the bills allowed shall include a list of all claims allowed, including salary claims for services performed, showing the name of the person or firm making the claim, the reason for the claim, and the amount of the claim, except that the publication of claims shall comply with the following:  (a) The names of persons receiving relief shall not be published.  (c)  If the reason for the claims is the same, two or more claims made by the same vendor, supplier, or claimant may be consolidated if the number of claims consolidated and the total consolidated claim amount are listed in the statement.  However, the board shall provide at its office upon request an unconsolidated list of all claims allowed.

11.6(4a) – In addition to the powers and duties under other provisions of the Code, the auditor of state may at any time cause to be made a complete or partial reaudit of the financial condition and transactions of any city, county, county hospital, memorial hospital, entity organized under chapter 28E, merged area, area education agency, school corporation, township, or other governmental subdivision, or an office of any of these, if one of the following conditions exists: (2) The auditor of state receives from an elected official or employee of the governmental subdivision a written request for a complete or partial reaudit of the governmental subdivision.

331.437 – It is unlawful for a county official, the expenditures of whose office come under this part, to authorize the expenditure of a sum for the official’s department larger than the amount which has been appropriated for that department by the board.   A county official in charge of a department or office who violates this law is guilty of a simple misdemeanor.  The penalty in this section is in addition to the liability imposed in section 331.476.  [added 11 October 2010]

66.1A – Any appointive or elective officer, except such as may be removed only by impeachment, holding any public office in the state or in any division or municipality thereof may be removed from office by the district court for any of the following reasons:

1.  For willful or habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of the office.
2.  For willful misconduct or maladministration in office.
3.  For corruption.
4.  For extortion.
5.  Upon conviction of a felony.
6.  For intoxication, or upon conviction of being intoxicated.
7.  Upon conviction of violating the provisions of chapter 68A.  [added 10 October 2010]

It’s called being proactive

June 11, 2010

[Update 10:52am, 14 June 2010:  NCSML provided their 2008 IRS Form 990 to the BOS and it’s now filed in the public record along with the CAT grant application presentation]

On May 10th, I posted Want public money? Let’s see your 990  To my knowledge, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has not considered my suggestion.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard Cedar Rapids City Councilor Chuck Wieneke tell the BBRE’s audience on WMT600AM that the only thing he knew about the City of Cedar Rapids’ offer to GoDaddy was what he read in The Gazette.

I’m not saying that anyone is doing anything wrong, i.e., that the BOS is giving tax dollars to anyone who is undeserving or that the City of CR doesn’t have the right to make an offer to GoDaddyWhat is wrong is the perceived lack of openness and transparency associated with these transactions.

Tentatively, the BOS’s June 14th agenda will include this item:  National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML) presentation on CAT grant application and Linn County’s participation.  I’m not privy to the details of this item.  I usually learn the details in the same manner as the public, i.e., I have to sit through the BOS meetings to learn the details.

Will the BOS require the NCSML to provide their 2009 IRS Form 990 to the BOS prior participating in the CAT grant application?  I doubt it.  Would they if asked?  Most likely, but no one asks.

Why doesn’t anyone ask?  Maybe it’s because Supervisor Lu Barron is on the board of the NCSML?  Maybe it’s because Supervisor Jim Houser was a former member of the board for six years?  Maybe it’s because one board member is the husband of a CR City Councilor or one board member is the mother of a state representative or one board member works for the Governor (per the 2008 IRS Form 990).  Who knows?

I walk the talk when it comes to openness and transparency.  Don’t believe me?  Look at or follow me on or read this blog.

Let’s assume that I am extreme in my views of openness and transparency in government.  If I am, would it hurt if other electeds and local government bodies met me halfway?  It would go a long way towards destroying the conspiracy theories before they become urban legend.  It would improve our credibility.

It’s called being proactive.  What’s the down side?

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