The Ottumwa Courier

November 28, 2012

Van Buren Co. supes consider LOST vote

Courier correspondent

KEOSAUQUA — The Van Buren County Board of Supervisors will consider putting the local option sales tax up for a vote in a special election early next year.

Earlier this month, the unincorporated areas in the county defeated LOST with 836 voting in favor of extending the tax and 904 voting against. It also failed in 2010. The 1 percent local option sales tax is set to expire June 30, 2013.

If voters want to get it on the ballot for a special election by March 5, it would have to get 180 signatures within the next couple of weeks. Supervisors could also act on their own, but either way, the ballot issue would have to be approved by Dec. 10, said Van Buren County Auditor Jon Finney.

The election would be expensive, although not as high as in the general election.

“For a special election we can shorten the hours to be noon to 8 p.m., which drops the cost from $7,000 to $5,000,” Finney said.

Schools and cities don’t need the costly machines in their elections, but the county does.

The sales tax proposal did pass in the communities of Cantril, Birmingham, Bonaparte, Milton and Stockport. Farmington renewed it in 2010, and Keosauqua’s does not sunset.

If the unincorporated area sales tax lapses, then the businesses in those areas would charge a 6 percent sales tax and the rest of the county, 7 percent.

County resident Randy Besick argued that the county should focus on cutting spending because of tax increases in the recent years.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to cut the budget by 3 percent?” he asked.

According to Finney, the money on the one-cent sales tax in the unincorporated areas was used to replace a portion of the property taxes which went for roads and accessing the county share of the farm-to-market money.

To gain its share of the state’s road use tax funds, the county must levy 75 percent of the maximum rate in the general basic fund. Finney said the county uses the sales tax receipts to meet the 75 percent minimum. If there was no sales tax money coming in to the county, the supervisors would either have to raise the levy to the 75 percent minimum to access the road use taxes or leave the levy the same and see a drop of money coming into the county from gas taxes, resulting in a cut in the level of services.

The state would withhold funds if the county did not levy the maximum, Finney noted. The county expends $3.2 million under the “roads and transportation” portion of the budget, with the majority coming from the state road use tax money.

The four-year average receipts the county has been receiving from local option sales tax that has been used for property tax relief is $291,400, according to Finney.

Based on the current year’s rural valuation, this amounts to $1.40 per $1,000 property tax levy equivalent, which will be increased to access the farm-to-market road use tax money.

Finney also said the sales tax defeat is a windfall for Van Buren County cities that passed it, because they reap an increased share of sales tax monies that are spent in the county.

Besick suggested there might have been some confusion from the public.

“What did you guys do to promote this?” Besick asked.

The supervisors admitted they did little but are restricted on what they could do as a board.

Supervisor Marvin Philips said he talked about it and encouraged people to vote yes on his own.

Finney said the tax was explained on the front page of the local newspaper and the Farm Bureau had a letter to the editor.

County resident Rick Plowman said that perhaps a petition drive would help educate people.

“But my concern is the time frame,” Plowman said. “Will you do it if there is a petition or will you vote separately?”

“It would be better to come from a petition,” Philips said.

The supervisors were also concerned about the cost of the election, considering it has already failed twice.

“People did not know the alternative,” Besick said. “Put it on the ballot as a sales tax, and they’ll vote against a tax increase.”

Plowman asked about what wording the supervisors would put on the ballot, whether there would be another sunset and would all be dedicated to property tax relief.

Supervisor Ted Nixon said he could commit to supporting the language on property tax relief.

As far as a sunset clause is concerned, the supervisors thought it might have a better chance of passing if there was a sunset.

Plowman also asked if private individual(s) donated the cost of the election, if that would ensure the supervisors vote to hold an election. The supervisors refused to commit either way. Persons may contribute to the general fund, although that would not necessarily force the county to have the election.

The topic will be on the board’s agenda for the Dec.10 meeting.