Dubuque County board recommends $40 million bond issue for conservation projects

The Dubuque County Conservation Board recently recommended that a $40 million bond measure be taken to voters for projects in the county’s long-term conservation plan.

At the board’s last meeting, a new, nonpartisan political action committee — Dubuque County Land and Water Legacy — proposed that the board petition the county Board of Supervisors to put the measure on the ballot.

“We expect the principal use of this fund will be to fund projects in the 280-page Dubuque County Conservation Parks, Trails and Open Spaces plan that was completed in this room in September 2020,” said the PAC’s president, Art Roche. “In addition, those funds could be used, with the Board of Supervisors’ approval, to fund portions of other conservation groups’ programs.”

This is not the first time this kind of bond issue has been considered in Dubuque County. There was a previous effort in 2017.

“The big problem in 2017 was you didn’t have the plan,” Roche said. “Now, we know what needs to be funded.”

That plan included expansive public input and includes major investments in projects for both outdoor recreation and resource protection.

If the conservation board is successful in convincing the Board of Supervisors to put the bond issue on an upcoming ballot, approval would require support on 60% of the ballots cast.

To that end, Roche said his group has approached area organizations and has been endorsed by Friends of Dubuque County Conservation, Friends of Mines of Spain, Dubuque County Conservation Society, Catfish Creek Watershed Management Authority, Dubuque Interfaith Green Coalition and Outdoor Dubuque.

He pitched a September election on the issue, when the measure likely would be alone on the ballot. But board members thought that would be too early for voters to educate themselves. Those members proposed it be placed on the November ballot, along with the Dubuque City Council and mayoral election.

If the supervisors choose to use property tax revenue to pay back the bond as proposed, the estimated impact to the owner of a home valued at $150,000 would be $36 per year.

Two members — Pat Rea and George Davis — were not ready to vote for the measure at the board’s meeting, although both said they were in favor of holding the referendum. Rea voted against petitioning the Board of Supervisors, saying he did not think voters would have enough time even by November to get comfortable with the idea. Davis abstained, wishing for more information.

Members Cindy Gotto, Stacy Conforti and Jay Wickham, who is also a county supervisor, however, wanted to get the ball rolling and voted in favor.

“The momentum is there,” Gotto said. “I’d like to keep it moving.”

Similar ballot measures for conservation funding have been successful in other Iowa counties. Johnson County voters approved $20 million in 2008. Polk County voters approved $50 million in 2012. Linn County voters approved $40 million in 2016.