A barrage of legislation went through Iowa’s legislative chambers last week, as state lawmakers adjourned their session.
Schools came away rather well, as Centerville Schools Superintendent Tom Rubel admitted Wednesday. Cities and counties, on the other hand, ended up frustrated.
New in the upcoming year for city and county governments will be a soft cap on tax revenue growth, implementing new rules and procedures anytime those government bodies desire to raise tax revenue by more than 2 percent.
The bill will make the budgeting time longer, and add an additional public hearing to the process if growth passes the 2 percent cap. Going above the cap will require a two-thirds vote of the governing body.
The bill had been hotly debated until it was changed in the early morning hours of Thursday last week. The bill was rewritten from 30 pages to 13 pages. Among notable removals was a procedure for citizens to petition for a special election.
Still, the move left local governments frustrated with the legislature.
“Two percent is not a whole lot of growth when your healthcare [costs] and rock [costs] go up,” Mark Waits, Appanoose County Board of Supervisors Chairman, said. “
Legislators approved a new child mental health system, which will include the mental health regions funded by counties around the state to employ a child mental health specialist. Waits pointed out the state did not approve funding to go along with the mandate.
“[The unfunded mandate is] par for the course for the counties and the cities, we’ve seem to have taken the brunt of that,” Waits said.
For the city of Centerville, administrator Jason Fraser said he found it odd the legislature capped property tax revenue increases by 2 percent. He said that previously when the legislature discussed taking away backfill funds from the 2013 property tax cuts. They had stated cities and counties could expect 3 percent revenue growths in making a case that local governments no longer needed the backfill.
“They expect us to have 3 percent growth, but only want us to realize 2 percent of it,” Fraser said. “I haven’t figured out the math logic on that one.”
Legislators didn’t make any further changes to the property tax backfill payments, after trimming it their last session.
The legislature approved an extension of the 1-cent, statewide sales tax. The tax was set to expire in 2029 but now has been extended through 2059.
The fund is used by school districts for infrastructure improvements and property tax relief. Extending the fund gives more certainty to districts, who can loan money based off future incomes to fund larger projects.
The Centerville Community School District received about $1.2 million from the fund last fiscal year, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
“When we begin to plan, we don’t take any astronomical risk on how we spend that money ... we can plan for it and invest wisely ... and take advantage of those low-interest rates,” Rubel said.