Issues on the ballot in special elections in Johnson and Warren County both failed to get enough votes to pass Tuesday. Warren County voters overwhelming turned down a measure that would have allowed gambling in the county — with 60-percent voting “No”.
Warren County Economic Development Director, Jason White, says he’s disappointed in losing the chance for a new casino that would bring 600 new jobs and millions in investment to the county. “Now that it has not succeeded, I guess just reflecting on this, we are very proud of the hopeful optimistic campaign that was waged by the Warren County Citizens for good jobs. And really are positive about the many things that we have going on in the future too,” White says.
“I think from that standpoint we still have a large portfolio of companies that want to invest in Warren County.” White is used to going up against other counties and cities in trying to lure businesses to the county, but in this case they were going up against established casinos, including Prairie Meadows in nearby Polk County.
“Certainly Prairie Meadows is very strong in central Iowa. I think people have the perception that there are too many casinos — certainly that was an argument that some people made. I guess we still go back to the fact that one third of the state’s entire population is here (in central Iowa) versus other counties that are much smaller and have multiple casinos. So I think there is still a market for it, but obviously it won’t be here,” White says.
White hopes the casino campaign has highlighted the need to bring more business to the county. “We don’t have a lot of time to really wallow in our sorrows on this. The one thing I will say is that we would like to invite those who opposed this project to certainly put forward alternative ideas for economic development projects for Warren County try to help harness those same energies to contribute to our county’s growth,” White says.
“Because we are going to need all hands on deck as we continue to address the challenges that we have to grow our county.” The failed vote means the county can’t vote on allowing gambling again until 2021.
In Tuesday’s other vote, Johnson County residents rejected a 34-point-five-million-dollar bond proposal for a new jail and expanded courthouse. The bond needed 60-percent of the vote to pass, but received only 54-percent. Jeff Cox, a volunteer for the “Say No Campaign,” says he doesn’t think the county has exhausted every alternative before turning to the bond issue.
“They simply haven’t been able to compromise on the issue of a bigger jail. We incarcerate way too many people now and we jail too many people, and there are ways to deal with that problem that haven’t been addressed,” Cox says. Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan says it’s back to the drawing board for the county.
“I don’t know, I guess we could go a lot of different directions. The need does not go away. We still have serious and significant courthouse needs and serious and significant jail needs,” Sullivan says. “We’re going to have to continue to do the best we can.” The Board of Supervisors cannot bring up the bond issue for another vote until at least six months.