It's March and local elections are around the corner in Johnson County. First up is a May 5th referendum for a local option sales tax (LOST) of one cent.
In Iowa City and Coralville, the referendum looks like this:
"A local sales and services tax shall be imposed in the city of Iowa City at the rate of one percent (1%) to be effective from July 1, 2009, until June 30, 2013.
Revenues from the sales and services tax shall be allocated as follows:
0% for property tax relief.
The specific purpose for which the revenues shall otherwise be expended is:
100% for remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure,
and local matching funds for dollars received from any federal or state programs to
assist with flood remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure."
This looks good on paper, but as state and federal revenues decrease, there is no guarantee that these projects will be supported at the levels they would need to be without other supports (e.g. rate hikes on water bills). For instance the Iowa City plan would call for about $59 million dollars from state and federal sources beyond the taxes collected via the LOST.
In North Liberty, the purpose "100% for the construction and improvement of city streets, including but not limited to Highway 965." You can add your own punchline here.
In Tiffin, it gets more interesting as 25% is for park and recreation
improvements and 75% for community improvements including sidewalk, street, public safety, water and sewer improvements and any other lawful purposes of the City of Tiffin. I don't know what that lawful purpose could be, but if, for instance, the mayor, Royce Phillips, gets a raise, you voted for it.
However, look what happens in the unincorporated area of the county, the extra penny will be for "50% for property tax relief in the unincorporated area of the
county of Johnson." and the other 50% for "improvement and/or maintenance of Johnson County secondary roads and bridges."
In unincorporated Johnson County, there is significant agriculture and it could be argued that there is some relief needed because of the flooding last year. However there are some very nice pieces of prime real estate that are out there that forward thinking developers could jump on in the next four years that would become very attractive to home buyers knowing that their taxes would be significantly lower than their urban neighbors. Of course, with some improved roads thrown in there, wouldn't you want to jump on that bandwagon? I'd throw up a sign that says "Johnson County Welcome Sprawlers."
The best solution for the long-term health of the communities is one that isn't on the table. State Senator Joe Bolkcom tried to get a bill considered to allow localities to impose a local income tax. This is the fairest way for projects to be paid for, as it is a equitable tax which has the added feature of making sure everybody can pay what they can afford and for cities to take on projects that they can sell.