When Dubuque County voters see a number with seven zeros behind it on their ballots Nov. 2, there could be a tendency to jump to a negative reaction. Citizens, we know, are cautious about giving approval to measures that will increase their taxes.
But the $40 million in bonds is not the number to focus on in weighing the investment in county conservation measures. Think about $36 a year. That’s not even a dime a day. That’s what county officials estimate will be the most the owner of a property valued at $150,000 could expect to see in property tax increase on the county portion of his or her bill.
Citizens would be hard-pressed to come up with a more valuable investment of a dime per day than the return the county will see in conservation improvements.
The $40 million would be spread out over a 20-year bonding process with five issuances of $8 million each. The only time the $36 a year would come into play would be when three of those bonds had been let at once.
More importantly, the impact of the investment is incredibly valuable.
Would you pay a dime a day for increased outdoor recreational opportunities? Because that’s what the bonds will go toward. Some 20% of the spending would be to improve existing trails and develop new ones, including water trails for kayakers.
How about a dime a day to maintain, expand and improve parks? Think about more campsites, renovations to restrooms, more opportunities for wilderness camping — that’s what 35% of the spending will support.
It’s tough to put a price on water quality, land protection and habitat management. But a dime a day is a small price to pay for the conservation of Dubuque County resources. That accounts for 35% of the proposed spending over the next two decades.
There’s more, too. More kayak launches, more ATV trails, more disc golf courses, more flooding remediation and prevention. And how about more parking at Swiss Valley Nature Preserve?
It’s important to note that before any major projects are begun, they will be subject to a public hearing with an opportunity for community input.
This is not, for example, a referendum on the paving of Heritage Trail. That is a project that might or might not happen regardless of this vote. It won’t happen without discussion, and the county has gotten good at discussion.
Before the Dubuque County Conservation Department ever brought this measure before voters, officials spent two years interviewing community members, hosting 11 meetings to gather feedback and collecting hundreds of written comments. From that work emerged a comprehensive plan for county parks, trails and lands.
County officials already knew about the amazing natural resources in the area. But they were energized by the interest and support in appreciation of the county’s natural spaces.
Then, the pandemic hit, and guess what happened? The number of people enjoying Heritage Trail doubled, from more than 100,000 a year to more than 200,000 a year as measured at the Rupp Hollow Road access. The number of people at Proving Grounds Recreation Area tripled from 2019 to 2020, as did visitors to Whitewater Canyon Wildlife Area.
Citizens clearly love and appreciate Dubuque County public lands. And now more than ever, they use those spaces.
Those kinds of amenities are absolutely priceless when it comes to attracting young people to the area for jobs, keeping college grads here to start a professional life and building tourism offerings for travelers of all ages.
Consider the counties that have already passed similar county conservation spending measures. Polk, Linn and Johnson counties are among them — all counties with a growth mindset, also looking to retain young workers. Maintaining quality recreational opportunities is 100% part of what it takes to attract workforce and remain competitive with other Iowa communities. That’s exactly why the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce has already given its full endorsement to the measure.
If Dubuque County citizens don’t invest now, money for projects will be hard to come by. Numerous conservation funding resources have dried up in recent years. If county residents back this investment, it is likely to draw down even greater investment in the form of grants and partnerships. Officials in Johnson, Linn and Polk counties say they’ve been able to leverage their bonds with matching money by four to five times the investment.
A vote for the Dubuque County conservation measure is a vote for investment in the county’s future. From protecting and caring for our natural resources to enhancing outdoor amenities in the name of tourism promotion and worker retention, there are multiple reasons citizens should vote yes on Nov. 2. And all for as little as a dime a day.