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Sullivan on the sales tax

In his weekly salvo, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan nicely summarizes the sales tax issue in Johnson County:

First, as you probably know, Iowa law is a bit odd in this situation. It allows a municipality with 50% or more of the population of a county to call a sales tax election in that county. Since Iowa City has roughly 68,000 of Johnson County¹s roughly 130,000 residents, Iowa City has the ability to call an election. They did so, and an election will be held May 5.

The odd part is that State law gives the responsibility for setting a sunset date to the Board of Supervisors. It would seem that if the city can call the election, they could also set the terms of that election, but that is not the case.

So, Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, and other cities contacted Johnson County and requested a 5-year sunset. After two long meetings worth of debate, Johnson County voted 3-2 for a 4-year sunset.

Where did 4 years come from? A couple Supervisors had been leaning toward 3 years, but wanted to make any vote to renew the tax line up with the next Presidential election. So 4 years was chosen.

Supervisors Meyers, Harney, and Stutsman voted for the 4 years.
Supervisor Neuzil voted against the measure (I believe he wanted a 3-year sunset); I voted against the measure because I felt the cities ought to have an opportunity to ask the public for the 5 years they were seeking.

Then the Board needed to vote on the uses of any County sales tax revenue. Again, the vote was 3-2, with Supervisors Meyers, Harney, and Stutsman voting to spend 50% on roads and bridges and 50% on property tax relief. Supervisor Neuzil voted against the measure (I believe he wanted 100% property tax relief); I voted against the measure because I think replacing property taxes with sales taxes has the effect of shifting the cost of government to people with less money.

(Obviously, I am treading into dangerous territory by trying to explain the votes of any of my colleagues. I can tell you HOW they voted, but they need to tell you WHY. If you have questions as to what an individual Supervisor was thinking, I strongly urge you to contact her or

I have written at length on sales taxes in previous editions of Salvos. There will be more to come in a future edition. Meanwhile, let¹s continue to focus on process.

While Supervisors disagreed on these votes, I do believe the Board is unanimous in feeling as though the needs of County government are largely being ignored by the cities. Obviously, this is not good. There is some serious work to be done between local governments to heal the wounds that exist. This may be even more difficult now in light of this vote; I do not know. I just know that we need to talk.

I hope local governments can have some meaningful conversations very soon. The public deserves governments who work together for the collective good.

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , , ,

One Response

  1. Dave Langston says:

    Good article, always nice to keep in touch with on our friends in Johnson County.

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