Jim Wherry: Republican for Mitchell County District 2
Oct 05, 2020 06:48PM
By Savannah Howe
Jim Wherry, of Osage, is a Republican running to secure the District 2 seat of the Mitchell County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the eastern half of Osage. Wherry is contested by Al Winters, who ran in the primary as a Republican and is now running in the general election as an Independent.
Wherry told Enterprise Journal he wants to see the county move in a positive direction, and is ready to make that happen.
Wherry, who has worked in the Mitchell County secondary road department for over four decades, feels that using tax increment financing (TIF) to draw people to the county is a good thing.
“TIF was created by the state to help with bringing people in to rural areas. If you use it to make this county look nice, and do improvement projects, people will want to live here. And that is a benefit for the taxpayers.”
The candidate thinks there are several projects funded by TIF that have been beneficial and sound economic investments, including the Stacyville park improvements which, he stated, used $625,000 in TIF funding for various projects, as well as the Cedar River Complex and trail systems.
However, there have been TIF uses that Wherry doesn’t agree with. He referenced the county spending roughly $700,000 on road rock in 2019 through the TIF fund, and using the money saved in the road department to purchase new equipment.
“I wasn’t supportive of that. It’s legal to do it. What they did was use TIF money to buy road rock, and the money that the road department saved was geared to purchase equipment. It’s legal, it’s fine. I didn’t agree because that TIF needs to be used for investments for long term goals. Road rock lasts three to five years. I just wouldn’t have done that.”
Wherry said that, while the parameters of the housing incentive programs related to TIF can be questionable, the programs are open to anyone— certain contractors are not being isolated. He would like to see the program used more to improve on homes existing within city neighborhoods, rather than just developing new homes on the cities’ fringes.
“Helping with renovating houses is a great idea,” said Wherry. “For the renovation, the county would still help with up to 15 percent of the renovation value, just like they do with the new homes. I just think we need to help with the center of our towns, strengthen the interior.”
He also sees value in new homes in small Mitchell County communities like Orchard, Toeterville and Mitchell. “They are gems that would love to be rejuvenated with new homes. There are certainly people that would love to live in these smaller communities in a nice new house and work in a city like Rochester, Mason City or Austin.”
Wherry said he isn’t sure whether laying fiber optic lines to those small communities should be a publicly or privately funded endeavor, but is interested in exploring the legality of “using TIF money to help with the installation as a loan.”
Overall, the candidate said that TIF can be beneficial to the county when used properly, and that the added funding is definitely a need.
“There’s only so much money coming in,” he explained. “And there’s always so much going out. Property taxes just about pay for the wages of county employees, dollar per dollar. Between the road department, mental health and disability services, there’s not enough money to do everything. So, if people are expecting services, if the money that was going into TIF was instead put into the general fund, there wouldn’t be enough. Those comments about ‘just put the money into the system’ don’t work.”
The candidate said the levies that set property taxes will never be lowered because there will always be a need for funds from the taxing bodies, with schools taking up to 60 percent of property taxes alone.
In regard to infrastructure, Wherry feels each road should be considered for paving and maintenance based on its traffic levels.
“The biggest industry we have is agricultural. If we improve the system, it is for those in that system to use it longer.”
Wherry said the state of Iowa should pay for the mandates put in place for mental health and disability services, which would free up as much as a third of the relative finances in the system.
“Ever since the state created the regional based system, and now with COVID, [mental health and disability services] are even more stressed financially. It is a much needed service that is not funded well enough. The biggest problem with it is the state mandates.”
In other state legislation, Wherry said he is supportive of the Outdoor Recreational Trust Fund, which was voted into law ten years ago but hasn’t been funded since then. The fund, meant to help with recreational projects like bike trails and conservation issues like soil, air and water quality, won’t be funded until a one-cent sales tax increase is voted into law. Wherry said, while he generally is not an advocate for tax increases, he sees the benefit in this fund.
“The governor has indicated she would be willing to increase the sales tax, which would trigger putting money in that fund,” he said. Three-eights of each penny of the tax would go into the fund, which would be accessible to Mitchell County.
Wherry thinks the legislation behind soda and beer can redemption needs work. “We are paying for something that we can’t get rid of.”
Wherry feels it will be better to have five heads in the supervisor game rather than three, but stated it will be more expensive to the county.
The candidate said his track record as Mitchell County employee make him a preferable candidate.
“People know me and how I think. They know what I can do, and I think they’ve liked what they’ve heard from me.”