Courier Staff Writer
A panel of Wapello County mayors discussed Local Option Sales Tax and its benefits to each community at the League of Women Voters of Ottumwa’s candidate forum Thursday night.
Agency Mayor Bob Briner, Blakesburg Mayor Jason Myers, Chillicothe Mayor Jim Lasley, Eddyville Mayor John Johnston, Eldon Mayor Shirley Stacey, Ottumwa Mayor Frank Flanders, Ottumwa City Administrator Joe Helfenberger and Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel spoke about the tax. Kirkville Mayor Terry Robinson did not attend the forum.
Each official said their community has received thousands of dollars from LOST in the last decade, which have contributed to many needed projects.
“We’ve spent that on capital improvements to our city, including replacing city water mains, replacing water meters, a water system distribution center upgrade, resurfacing of city streets,” Briner said.
Myers said Blakesburg’s LOST revenue has gone toward resurfacing roads, as well as law enforcement and capital improvements projects.
“If it does not pass, it will make any improvements the city wishes to make nearly impossible,” Myers said.
Lasley said while the nearly $80,000 Chillicothe received in the last decade may not seem like much compared to other municipalities, it constitutes 20 to 25 percent of his town’s budget.
Johnston said 100 percent of Eddyville’s more than $900,000 in LOST revenue in the last decade has gone toward street projects.
Stacey said Eldon’s LOST revenue has benefited the library, fire and police departments, cemetery, new equipment and street repairs.
“If Eldon did not have this tax revenue, we would have to cut the services of those departments, along with the maintenance of streets and upgrading of equipment,” Stacey said. “We could not support what we have on water, sewer and garbage revenues alone.”
Helfenberger said 10 percent of Ottumwa’s LOST revenue would go toward property tax relief, with the other 90 percent going toward streets and sewers.
“If it does not pass in the county, revenue in outlying cities would be based only under commercial trade,” Helfenberger said. “If it doesn’t pass within Ottumwa, residents can expect ... a large increase in sewer rates and property taxes.”
He said the city will have to reduce its 4 miles of street repair per year to 1 mile or less per year if the tax does not pass.
“Completely fair taxation may be a goal that’s unattainable with an imperfect government, but this tax brings us closer to fairness than we would be without it,” Flanders said.
Siegel spoke to LOST’s benefits for the unincorporated communities in the county.
“Over the last 10 years, Wapello County has made about $12 million on LOST and $1.3 million last year,” Siegel said. “Half goes to bridges and culverts, 25 percent goes to rural property tax relief and 25 percent to capital projects.”
Without property tax relief, Siegel said the county’s rural residents could see a 27 percent increase in property tax.
“It’s really a no-brainer for rural residents,” he said. “They get back more than they put in.”