By Sam Metry
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
ST. JOHNS — In 2010 Clinton County started a county incentive program that was designed to make the county run more efficiently, ultimately saving taxpayers money.
Since then, the county has improved across the board, County Clerk Diane Zuker said.
“As a whole the county has seen improvement in a lot of areas,” said Zuker. “It showed when the county went from an A+ to a AA credit score (based on Standard and Poor’s scores).”
The Standard and Poor’s credit rating is designed to show how well a country (or in this case a county) can meet its financial commitment, Iowa State University economics professor Peter Orazem said.
“In moving from a A to an AA, the county has shown that it can handle adverse changes to in economic conditions,” said Orazem.
According to data provided by the county, the biggest areas that the county has improved on is the cost per resident, retiree health care funded, and pensions funded.
“We’re really proud of the improvement Clinton County has shown,” said Zuker.
Vice-chairperson of the Clinton County Board of Commissioners David Pohl was surprised at how fast the county was able to improve.
“Looking at where we were when we started the program to where we now are is amazing,” said Pohl. “I knew that we were going to improve I just didn’t think that it would happen this quickly it would happen.”
When asked about what stat he was most proud of, Pohl talked about the pensions.
“We started out at being able to fund 79 percent of the pensions,” said Pohl. “In 2014 we we’re at 94 percent. So in four years we were able to fund 15 percent more pensions.”
Zuker was also pleased with the high pensions being funded.
“The pensions are great, but I’m also really happy with the cost per resident,” said Zuker. “We started at $327.42 per resident and now we’re down to $316.24 per resident.”
The cost per resident is a good gauge of how efficient the county is, Zuker said. It shows how much money the county has to spend per resident. So the lower the cost, the more efficiently the county is running.
“Now $11 per resident may not sound like a lot, but Clinton County has over 75,000 residents,” said Pohl. “So think about what that total number would be.”
The last U.S. Census puts Clinton County at 75,382 residents. So by dropping the cost per resident $11.18, the county has saved a total $842,770.76 (if the amount of residents hasn’t changed).
One of the stats that might be misleading is the “employees per resident” stat that the county incentive program is looking at, Zuker said.
“The stat shows how many employees the county needs per 1,000 residents,” said Zuker. “Some people think that a lower total might not be a good thing because the county would have laid off people. Really, the lower number is a good thing because we are condensing jobs and running more efficiently.”
So even though the county may be employing less people, the unemployment rate in Clinton County has dropped tremendously. In January of 2010, the unemployment rate was at 9.7 percent, said Zuker. In Sept. of 2015 the unemployment rate was at 3.1 percent.
However, even though the county has shown great strides in becoming more efficient, there is still work to be done, Zuker said.
“I said that pensions has shown great improvement, but we’re not at 100 percent yet,” said Zuker. “If I’m being a little selfish, I’m retiring relatively soon so ideally that number would be 100 percent for me.”