1% Local Option Tax
25 reasons to vote for the sales-tax increase in Polk County
The Register's editorial Published 12:24 p.m. CT Feb. 8, 2018 | Updated 12:28 p.m. CT Feb. 8, 2018
The 1 percent sales tax is applied only where a majority of voters have approved it. Kim Norvell/Des Moines Register.
Polk County voters go to the polls in 25 days — or they can cast an absentee ballot now — to consider increasing the sales tax by 1 cent, from 6 cents to 7.
The Register's editorial board believes Public Measure A should pass on March 6. The money could finance several projects that promise to improve the quality of life for all residents in the county. We can think of at least 25 reasons to support the referendum, in no particular order:
1. The one penny would produce $79 million per year countywide, including $37 million in revenue for the city of Des Moines.
2. Every city plans to use at least 50 percent of the proceeds for property tax relief.
3. More than 30 percent of sales tax revenue will come from visitors outside Polk County.
4. If the tax failed, the city of Des Moines estimates it would have to raise its property-tax levy by $1.50 per $1,000 valuation to maintain an acceptable level of services. But if it passes, it hopes to lower the levy by 40 cents. The owner of a $150,000 home would save $158 a year in property taxes.
5. Every county in Iowa except Johnson already has a sales tax of 7 percent. If you visit any of them, you’re already paying the tax.
6. The money will make West Des Moines more fun. The city plans to use a portion of its revenue for recreation, including a marathon-distance trail loop that would connect city parks and waterways, a pedestrian bridge over the Raccoon River, an outdoor amphitheater and a boathouse at Raccoon River Park. Don’t live in West Des Moines? You’ll still get to use those amenities. Plus, they will draw more people to the metro area, lifting all boats.
7. Dallas County residents voted in November to increase that county's sales tax to 7 cents. Cities that sit in both counties will want to avoid the headache of an inconsistent sales tax. If the Polk County measure passes, increases in both counties will go into effect July 1.
8. Sales taxes can have a disproportionate effect on the poor, so they should not be relied on too heavily. We will not reach that point. Also, the sales tax exempts many necessities, including grocery-bought food, medications, gasoline, utilities and services such as electrical or plumbing work.
9. The cities have spent months soliciting citizen input. In September, Des Moines conducted a phone survey of 1,080 residents to gauge support for the sales tax increase and ask how the money should be used.
10. Polk County will use a third of the proceeds for mental health services.
11. In Ankeny, 65 percent of the revenues will be used for property tax relief. The rest will be used for projects including a new multipurpose recreation facility for seniors; street improvements; extending the High Trestle Trail; and park and recreation improvements.
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12. Des Moines plans to target 20 percent of the proceeds to helping remove blighted properties in neighborhoods, chipping away at a big backlog of homes that need to come down.
13. It’s been more than 10 years (2007) since Polk County residents last voted on a local-option sales tax.
14. In Johnston, plans for the money could include a recreation trail along Pioneer Parkway; improved access to Beaver Creek and other waterways; and park improvements.
15. Clive plans to put proceeds toward its $41 million plan for the Greenbelt trail system, including straightening the recreational trail, preventing erosion, replacing a bridge and shelter, and other improvements.
16. West Des Moines residents can expect to see their property-tax levy fall by 8 percent, or 95 cents.
17. Cities, including Des Moines, will review how the money is spent and prepare an annual report.
18. In Urbandale, the money could be used for a new aquatic center, as well as improvements to streets, parks, trails and stormwater sewers.
19. Polk City and Sheldahl already have the tax in place. Again, consistency is important.
20. Des Moines would fund 13 firefighter positions now funded through a federal grant set to expire, add safety equipment and make improvements to fire stations.
21. If the Iowa Legislature decides to eliminate the property tax backfill — intended to help make up for money lost when the Legislature in 2013 lowered commercial and industrial property tax rates — this money would be necessary to fill gaps for many communities.
22. Cities including Pleasant Hill and West Des Moines would use proceeds to expand or improve public libraries.
23. The money would speed up improvements to Des Moines streets, including Fleur Drive and East Court Avenue.
24. There are many opportunities to learn more about the election. The Beaverdale Business Coalition and the West Side Chamber of Commerce will hold a forum at 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Northwest Community Center, 5110 Franklin Ave.
25. Cities are in this together. The measure must pass in contiguous cities to take effect. For example, even if a majority vote for the tax in Des Moines, it won’t be collected if the measure fails in the nine cities that touch the capital city.
This editorial is the opinion of the Des Moines Register’s editorial board: David Chivers, president; Carol Hunter, executive editor; Lynn Hicks, opinion editor; and Andie Dominick, editorial writer.