Johnson County sales tax election finalized

Tax increase will go to voters Nov. 4


IOWA CITY — The final pieces of the local-option sales tax vote slated for Johnson County this fall are now in place.

The county’s Board of Supervisor voted 4-1 Wednesday in support of a resolution setting the election for Nov. 4 and putting a 10-year limit on the tax, if it’s approved.

Now it will be up to Johnson County voters to decide whether they want to increase the sales tax to 7 percent from the current 6 percent, bringing up to $20 million a year more to local governments.

Iowa City called for the vote, which it has the power to do because of its population. But the supervisors had the discretion to set the number of years the tax would be collected, known as the sunset.

Ten years is what Iowa City called for, and if a majority of voters cast ballots in favor of the tax, it would be in effect from July 1, 2015, through June 2025.

Towns and the county get to decide what their portions of the tax revenue would be used on. The ballot language for each community also is now finalized, and those can be found on the Johnson County Auditor’s website.

If a 1 percent local-option sales tax had been in place for the entire county in fiscal year 2013, about $18.8 million would have been collected, with Iowa City getting the largest share, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Communities plan to use the tax revenue for everything from property tax relief to road repairs to any lawful purpose.

Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, University Heights and Tiffin will vote as one unit because they share borders. The unincorporated county and the other small towns vote individually.

The tax has frayed relations between local officials. Some Coralville leaders have said the distribution formula doesn’t adequately compensate the city for its retail prowess.

Coralville and North Liberty officials harshly criticized a supervisors’ proposal, later rescinded, that would have shortened the length of the tax in communities that didn’t contribute to a courthouse project. And the supervisors responded in kind and also have accused Iowa City of a lack of communication.

Even Wednesday, none of the five supervisors spoke too favorably of the tax. Supervisor Janelle Rettig cast the dissenting vote on the election resolution, saying sales taxes hurt lower-income people the most.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he agreed with Rettig but felt Iowa City should get their wish for a 10-year sunset.

“I am opposed to the sales tax, and I’m going to vote against the sales tax, but I think the 10-years’ piece should be the city’s call,” he said.

He joined Rettig in voting against the county’s plan to use 90 percent of the sales tax revenue on roads and bridges and 10 percent on the courthouse and court needs. It passed 3-2.

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