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NL council votes to help fund Community ID

Four new social services grants also approved

NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty is well on board with doing good.
The city council doled out contributions to several social service projects, as well as the county-wide Community ID program, at its Jan. 12 meeting.
As city staff works on a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the council was asked again about its willingness to help foot the bill for Johnson County’s Community ID program out of this year’s budget.
The initiative was launched last summer after the Johnson County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved it in April 2015. A Community ID is now a recognized form of identification for Johnson County residents who lack other forms of government-issued IDs. Containing the cardholder’s photograph, name and address, they are accepted as proper identification by local law enforcement and public agencies and for use in transactions in which a valid form of identification is required, such as cashing checks, filling prescriptions, renting apartments or getting library cards. Targeted users include immigrants, seniors who no longer drive, or those who lost personal documents in fires or natural disasters, among others.
County officials approached the City of North Liberty and other municipalities last February seeking financial support of the program. At that time, North Liberty council declined to participate, saying all discretionary dollars had already been allocated for the 2105 fiscal year.
The item returned to the council’s agenda last month, on Dec. 22.
“When the county considered its initiation, they asked city entities to pitch in,” Mayor Amy Nielsen reminded the group. “We said it was a good idea, but wanted to wait until the next fiscal year to talk about financial support. (Johnson County Auditor) Travis Weipert asked if we are still interested, and how much.”
Council members had nearly as many questions as when the program was first presented nearly a year ago, but this time, they wanted information on how it was working. With questions about its final startup costs, the dollar contributions of other entities, whether it is on track to be a self-sustaining program, and how many North Liberty users had obtained a Community ID so far, the council tabled the item until they could get answers.
Auditor Weipert came to the Jan. 12 meeting to provide them.
Its initial $20,000 startup costs included equipment purchases and staff training, Weipert told the council. The Board of Supervisors initially pledged $4,000 to the project, while the City of Coralville committed $4,000 and Iowa City contributed $6,000.
Approximately 700 IDs were issued in the last half of 2105, and about 40 of those were to North Liberty residents.
“We are still seeing a handful of people every day,” Wiepert said, “and we will be doing a large outreach with the University of Iowa in February. We continue to see a steady push for them.”
Weipert said he had not touched base with the North Liberty police department to learn whether the Community IDs were assisting in crime reporting– one of the anticipated benefits– but he has heard from many banks that are accepting them as a secondary form of identification to open accounts.
“The banks seem very happy with them,” he added. A number of Veterans have used the Community IDs to obtain assistance and services from Veterans Affairs as well, he said.
He noted applicants cannot order an ID online, and the IDs aren’t issued on the spot; requirements to get one are as stringent as registering to vote and require proof of address. An approved ID is only mailed to an applicant’s permanent address. They cannot be used to buy alcohol or tobacco, register to vote, get a driver’s license or board airplanes.
A four-year ID costs $8 for adults and $4 for children.
Council member Jim Sayre asked if the program was indeed supporting itself financially.
“What we are charging for the IDs is covering the cost of materials and training,” Weipert said. “There is no reason to make money off of it. Right now, we hope that when we have to upgrade equipment, we’ll have enough money on hand.”
To assist in that effort, Weipert again appealed to the City of North Liberty.
“We’d love to have North Liberty as a partner,” he said.
Councilman Terry Donahue moved to authorize a contribution of $1,500 to the program, which was met with only slight hesitance from his fellow councilors. Both Sayre and Chris Hoffman said they were disappointed the county had not included them in early conversations about the program, feeling the decision had been made before cities were consulted.
Mayor Nielsen disagreed.
“We were asked early on; the council at that time said they were waiting until the next fiscal year,” Nielsen said. “That’s why we are trying to decide now what North Liberty will contribute, if anything.”
Hoffman only partially agreed.
“We were asked, yes; but only after the program was already going to start,” said Hoffman. “We wanted to wait to see the actual cost of the program, and did not know those things a year ago.”
North Liberty’s $1,500 contribution– which will come through a budget amendment to the FY2016 budget– was approved 4-1, with council member Annie Pollock voting against it. Pollock said in previous meetings she feels the program is a duplication of services because people can get government-issued identifications via other means, such as the Iowa Department of Transportation.