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Little sunshine for property taxes

CHRONICLE GUEST VIEW: In the Public Interest

April 16, 2011
BY Jennifer L. Crull
Transparency at all levels of government. This is the goal of the Iowa Transparency Project. There is another area of government that needs the spotlight on it in hopes of creating sunshine in this area. This would be the county and local governments and school districts with the collection of our property taxes. In fiscal year 2010, $4.2 billion was collected at the county and local level for property taxes.

This amount is made even more overwhelming to the taxpayers when you compare this amount to the amount collected by the state for personal income taxes, which for fiscal year 2010 was $2.7 billion. Wow, much more collected at the property tax level, and yet there is not much protection for the taxpayer at this level of government.

Property taxes are collected on five classes of real estate: residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and utilities/railroads. Most of us think that only if I own a home do I care about property taxes, but that is not true. If you rent an apartment or a home you are paying for the property taxes in your rent; if you purchase anything at a business you are paying for their property taxes in the price that you pay. This is why we need to lower property taxes in order to see lower prices in our everyday lives.

When we take a look at property taxes over the last 20 years, we see that property tax collections in 1990 were $1,866.3 million and in 2010 they were $4,235.8 million. This is an increase of 127 percent over the last twenty years. Yet, the change in the Iowa General Fund Receipts over the same period of time is from $3,019.3 million for 1990 to $5,633.8 million in 2010. This is an increase of 87 percent. There is a big difference from 87 percent to 127 percent.

School districts receive the largest portion of the property tax revenue collected, at 42 percent. If we look at the change in tax collections from the local schools, we see a change of 109 percent, with collections in 1990 being $853.6 million to $1,780.2 million in 2010. We know that schools have seen an increase in state funding and yet they have also increased our property taxes much more than the state has.

The second largest recipients of property tax revenue are local governments. Local governments collected $465.4 million in 1990 and in 2010 it was $1,251.0 million. This is an increase of a staggering 169 percent. WOW! The counties were collecting $445.2 million in 1990 and $921.2 million for 2010. The increase there is only a 107 percent, while not as scary as local governments; it is easy to see why you are feeling a little over-taxed.

This means more checks and balances are needed at the county, local, and school district levels. The only way this will happen with the small sizes of county boards of supervisors, city councils, and school boards, is if we as taxpayers are able to see the expenditures and ask questions. This is the only way that we can keep the growth of our property taxes in check.

So it is time that we as taxpayers ask for more Sunshine at the county, local, and school district levels. I would urge you to attend school board meetings, city council meetings, and board of supervisor meetings and ask about transparency. It is time to get these increases in check at all levels.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better informed citizenry.

Jennifer L. Crull is the IT Specialist at the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant.



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