Jefferson County Supervisor Candidate: Lee DimmittWrapping up his first term at courthouse
Incumbent Lee Dimmitt is running for a second term as a Jefferson County supervisor to continue serving county residents and to balance economic growth while recognizing the importance agriculture plays in county economics.
In his first four years on the board of supervisors, Dimmitt said he’s experienced learning opportunities, frustration and satisfaction.
“I’ve enjoyed it tremendously,” he said
Prior to being elected, he said he was standing on the outside of county government looking in, not knowing how it all worked.
Dimmitt used a property tax statement for an example.
“Most people, including me prior to 2008, look only at the amount owed on the property tax bill,” he said. “Now, I look at where it goes. It’s a learning process. Out of every $100 collected in property taxes, the county gets only $17.”
He said he enjoys working with the people in Jefferson County.
“There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t hear from someone,” he said. “Mostly it’s running into people while out and about, but I also get calls at home and on my cell phone, and that’s why we put those numbers out there.”
Dimmitt’s cell phone is 919-9547.
“I’d like to be able to say, ‘yes, I can take care of that for you, right away,’ but that’s not always the case,” he said. “That’s the frustrating part to me, not being able to take care of things right away. Once on the inside, I found county government has layers of bureaucracy. But that just means establishing priorities.”
Dimmitt has enjoyed collaborating with other counties.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” he said. “I think government at this level is the most efficient.”
One of his most satisfying accomplishments was the joint counties’ effort to keep 10-15 Transit. Dimmitt serves as chairman of the 10-county cooperative supporting the rural public transportation system.
“It went through some difficulties in past years and it took a lot of effort from the counties,” said Dimmitt. “We went through a period where we were two weeks from closing it down. The city of Ottumwa kept us afloat and helped us tremendously. I had a meeting with the head of Iowa Department of Transportation, other lawmakers and state Rep. Curt Hanson helped us. Now, 10-15 Transit is operating in the black. We lost Lee County in the process, and that affects our bottom line. We have a number of drivers employed throughout the participating counties and all those drivers could have lost jobs if it had failed.”
Dimmitt added public transportation is very important in rural areas because there’s a limited selection. Taxis cost more than the $2 fee for rides on 10-15 Transit.
“Brookville Road was a frustration and an accomplishment,” said Dimmitt. “I knew I wanted to see it resurfaced and the process to get that done was nearly three years.”
Working on the board of supervisors has taught him how to better deal with frustrations, he said.
“My goal for the next term is to survive the funding shortfalls,” he said. “We want to provide the same services, but we’ll have less money. Expenses will increase, but our funding will likely decrease.”
An example of expenses increasing, he said, is a road product the county purchases has nearly doubled in price since he joined the board nearly four years ago. Gas prices increase, salaries increase and the Nov. 6 national and state election outcomes bring unknowns to funding.
“We have the new state mental health services redesign and don’t know how that will work,” he said. “Last year, the state legislature vowed to review commercial property taxes this session and give commercial properties the same roll-back homeowners receive. Right now, commercial properties have been paying 100 percent of valuation. If those are rolled back, the state looses 40 percent of that stream of income, and the loss is passed down.
“The state wants to mandate our allowable growth to 3 percent.”
Dimmitt said at Tuesday’s candidate forum that the state imposes standards on counties but rarely provides funding to help make changes.
“I’m frustrated when the state tells us to control our spending, but the state itself does not,” he said.
Dimmitt said funding the county’s infrastructure needs is an important issue and critical to economic development. Roads and bridges need repairs and maintenance. “Whenever we talk about economic development, I want to be sure we’re not undermining our agriculture economy,” he said. “Fairfield’s footprint is not big enough to absorb more urban sprawl. Economic development focuses on bringing more business and industries to provide jobs and draw more people here. It’s easy to forget how much economic prosperity comes from our agri-business.
“We do have a solid base of entrepreneurial spirit. But with economic development it’s a fine line. All the economic development in the world for Jefferson County couldn’t replace what we’d lose if we lost our agriculture economy.”
Dimmitt is concerned that new building, whether business, factory or homes, will take away more farmland.
When county residents contact him with concerns and issues, besides listening, he invites them to attend a supervisor meeting, he said. Meetings are held at 9 a.m. each Monday on the first floor of the courthouse.
He’s thought about holding weekly meetings in the evening once in awhile because 9 a.m. means some people need to take off work to be able to attend a meeting.
“But then we also have to have someone from the auditor’s office attend, the county engineer and maybe other county employees to work in the evening,” he said. “It’s not just about my preferences.”
The county auditor usually performs note-taking duties at each meeting to record official minutes. The county engineer attends each meeting to give an update about roadwork and projects. Usually the Veterans Administration and General Assistance Aid director attends, as well the assistant county attorney.
“I invite people to attend so the full board hears directly from the people,” Dimmitt said. “Steve [Burgmeier] and Dick [Reed] have a wealth of information and experience in county government.
“I meant what I said Tuesday [at the candidate forum] that we can disagree with one another but we’re not disagreeable people,” he said about his fellow county supervisors.