WATERLOO — Black Hawk County officials are urging area legislators to continue property tax replacement dollars and help keep the Country View care center open.

Those were among many issues the Board of Supervisors raised Tuesday during a 90-minute forum with four legislators whose districts include portions of the county.

State Sen. Bill Dotzler and Rep. Bob Kressig, both Democrats, and Reps. Walt Rogers and Sandy Salmon, both Republicans, attended the public meeting where the supervisors and county staff laid out their hopes for the upcoming legislative session.

County board chairman Frank Magsamen opened the discussion by urging the legislators to fully “backfill” commercial and industrial property tax reductions.
State lawmakers in 2013 reduced commercial and industrial property taxes through a rollback process and vowed to reimburse cities, school districts and counties for the lost revenue. But shrinking state revenue estimates have sparked concerns the state government would stop honoring that commitment next year.

“It would be at least a million dollars that we as a county government would lose if that tax credit wasn’t committed to by the state of Iowa,” Magsamen said.

“The hope was that this would spur economic growth,” he added. “We have not seen it to the extent that it would cover all of the reductions in property taxes of commercial and industrial properties in Black Hawk County.”

Dotzler and Kressig both said they were opposed to cutting the backfill, with Kressig doubling down on Magsamen’s comments about the impact of the tax cuts on economic growth.

“The original process was to grow the economy,” Kressig said. “Well, it hasn’t done a thing.”

Rogers said he felt the tax cuts did have a positive impact.

“Did the property tax bill spur any economic growth?” he said. “It’s hard to say for sure. Did it just sustain what we were doing? Was that a positive?”

Rogers acknowledged the backfill issue was on the table as state legislators grapple with the stress Medicaid and mental health issues are putting on the budgets. But he said he would be an advocate to leave the backfill in place next year and, if changes are necessary in the future, to phase the revenue out gradually over time.

“We are looking at everything,” added Salmon. “I would be lying if I didn’t say this wasn’t on the table. This will be looked at too.”

Meanwhile, the county asked for help with mental health funding and Medicaid issues, which are helping drive a budget crisis at the county-owned Country View care center. Country View is running more than a $1 million deficit this year, pushing costs onto property taxes and forcing county officials to look at grim options for the center’s future.

Magsamen noted Medicaid is only reimbursing Country View for 80 percent of the county’s cost to care for residents there.

Country View officials said they’ve been having continuous problems with the managed care organizations, which are private for-profit companies former Gov. Terry Branstad hired in 2016 to fund the Iowa Medicaid program.

 “The ongoing billing difficulties we are experiencing with the MCOs really create a significant cash flow issue,” said Assistant Country View Administrator Genevieve Shafer. “Without those timely payments we cannot operate our business as effectively and efficiently as it should be.”

She noted mistakes by the MCO led the county to be shorted in payments for persistent mentally ill nursing home clients.

“As a provider to be asked (by the MCO) to take a settlement of $147,000 when our billings were above $500,000, that is just unacceptable,” she said.

Rogers and Salmon said they would intervene on Country View’s behalf regarding the billing errors but stopped short of calling the Medicaid privatization a mistake.

“The change from an old Medicaid system to the MCOs was done with good intentions,” Rogers said.

“The reality is going to the new system saved $111 million over two years for our overall budget,” he said. “The reality is there are some problems with the implementation and we’ve got to address those.”

Kressig countered the privatization was an abuse of power by the Branstad administration that has created “a mess.”

“We took a system that was pretty well managed … and gave it to a private company to run it,” Kressig said. “That company’s focus has been profits.”