Iowa Legislature 2019

DES MOINES — Voters could overturn city or county property tax increases of more than 2 percent under a proposal set for a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday.

House Study Bill 165 would create a mechanism for voters to call for a referendum on the property tax increases. It’s a response to complaints from property taxpayers to whom local elected officials say the tax levy is going down and yet their taxes go up, Ways and Means Committee chairman Lee Hein, R-Monticello, said.

That can happen when the assessed valuation of residential, commercial or agricultural property goes up and the levy remains constant.

The goal is to increase transparency, Hein said.

“I don’t believe your local governments are being very honest with you when they tell you, ‘We are not raising your property tax levy,’ but they’re not lowering it, either, and then they’re gaining the windfall,” Hein said Monday.

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Under the bill, county boards and city councils could increase property tax collections by as much as 2 percent before voters could call for a reverse referendum. The petition for the referendum would have to be signed by a number of voters equal to 20 percent of the ballots cast in the previous presidential election.

If presented with a petition, a council or board could reduce the planned increase to 2 percent or less and avoid a referendum, Hein explained.

The pushback from local government groups has been “not as a much as you would think,” Hein said. He believes that’s because HSB 165 would remove the property tax levy rate limitations on the general and rural funds for counties and on the general fund for cities.

The Iowa State Association of Counties opposes the bill, while the Iowa League of Cities is registered as undecided.

The hearing will be at 8 a.m. Wednesday in room 103 of the Capitol.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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