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Polk County local tax vote coming in March?


Dallas County voters’ overwhelming approval of a local option sales tax Tuesday has Greater Des Moines leaders talking of a similar vote in Polk County as early as March 6, which would be a special election. 

Gene Meyer, president of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said the debate is over diversifying funding for municipal programs. 

“Local governments for a very long time have needed an alternative form of revenue,” Meyer said. The vote sets up Dallas County cities to offset part of residents’ property tax bills and to pay for some key projects with revenue from visiting shoppers, he said.

A report from the Iowa Department of Revenue suggests that 40 percent of the local option sales tax revenue in Dallas and Polk counties would be generated by shoppers from outside the counties.

The Dallas County vote leaves Polk and Johnson counties as the only metro areas without a countywide local option tax. 

Partnership CEO Jay Byers said the Dallas County vote leaves the Polk County Board of Supervisors and the city councils with decisions to make — on whether to call an election, when, and how the money would be used.

He sidestepped a question about the odds of approval in Polk County, but added: “This sends a message that this is a viable option that should be considered in Polk County. My advice to the cities would be to be transparent and open” while considering what action, if any, to take. 

Local municipal officials have talked for years about a local sales tax. Voters have soundly defeated previous proposals by local cities. But Tuesday’s vote in Dallas County — where tax increases also have been tough to pass — may have changed the landscape. 

The sales tax won majority approval in every city and in rural Dallas County Tuesday. Some cities had to vote together under state law. Contiguous cities are Clive, Grimes, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines. The residents of the Dallas County portion of those cities combined to give the measure 61.2 percent approval. 

The tax takes effect July 1. 

Support for the issue on the ballot appears widespread, at least among city managers in the county, Polk County Administrator Mark Wandro said.

Under state law, supervisors must place the issue on the ballot if either of two conditions is met: (1.) They receive a petition with the signatures of registered voters equal to 5 percent of the voters in the preceding statewide general election. (2.) Motions are submitted from governing bodies that represent at least half the population in the county. The contiguous cities would vote as one block.

In Dallas County, West Des Moines is the sales tax cash cow. In 2016, it generated 59 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue. However, a state-established formula for allocating disbursements from the local option sales tax will lower the city’s return. Under the formula, 25 percent of the distribution is based on property tax levies from 1982 through 1985, a time before the city extended into the county. Seventy-five percent of the distribution is based on population.

Total revenue for Polk and Dallas counties, based on 2016 sales tax data, would be nearly $93 million, with $12.2 million in Dallas and $80.7 in Polk, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

According to a report to the West Des Moines City Council, the city and Des Moines together represent 15 percent of all state sales tax revenues, with nearly $105.6 million generated within the West Des Moines city limits. The breakdown for 2016 was $45.1 million in Dallas County and $60.5 million in Polk County. Based on those revenues, West Des Moines would have received nearly $1.7 million if the local option sales tax had been in place last year.

In Polk County, Des Moines generates the most sales tax revenue, and it experienced a 10 percent increase in sales tax revenue — all but a small portion of which goes to the state — in the quarter that ended March 30, with tax receipts of $51.6 million on sales of nearly $865 billion, the largest increase by city in the state. A report from the Iowa Department of Revenue pegs the city’s take from a local option sales tax at $37 million, based on 2016 revenues.

Mandelbaum, Boesen in; Randleman out 
Area businesses will be working with two new members of the Des Moines City Council.

Des Moines voters elected Josh Mandelbaum, a political newcomer who wants to improve water quality, and school board veteran Connie Boesen, who defeated incumbent Skip Moore. 

Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, campaigned with a message that included the prospect of the council working harder on water quality, and reconsidering its role in discussions over dismantling Des Moines Water Works. He will replace longtime Councilwoman Christine Hensley, who decided not to run for re-election. 
Mandelbaum will represent downtown and much of the south and west parts of town, in Ward 3.

He defeated another candidate with considerable name recognition, Michael Kiernan, and Abshir Omar. Mandelbaum received 4,446 votes; Kiernan 2,719 and Omar, 720, unofficially.

Boesen unseated Moore after grabbing 54 percent of the vote, unofficially. 

In another result of interest to business representatives, Carlisle Mayor Ruth Randleman — a regular on the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s policy trips to D.C. who has been active in Central Iowa development efforts — lost her seat to a councilman of 15 years, Drew Merrifield. 

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