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Sales tax unofficially passes by six votes in Iowa City

BY SHANE ERSLAND | MAY 06, 2009 7:30 AM

Iowa City consumers looking to buy expensive products could soon save some money with a trip to Coralville after Tuesday’s election.

In a vote so close that a large family could have swung the turnout a different way, unofficial results show Iowa City residents voted 3,637 to 3,631 in favor of a local-option sales tax for flood relief.

As of Tuesday night, Iowa City — along with several other smaller Johnson County cities — unofficially passed the tax, while it failed to pass in Coralville, North Liberty, and unincorporated Johnson County.

But the numbers are unofficial because the absentee ballots have yet to be counted. As long as the ballots were sent no later than May 4 — and the Special Precinct Board receives them no later than May 11 — they will count, said Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett.

If Tuesday’s numbers hold, a 1 cent raise on sales tax will be implemented in the communities that passed the tax. Accrued funds will go to infrastructure projects where damage occurred as a result of last summer’s flooding, among various other county projects.

Coralville’s results were also close, with 963 voters against the tax and with 956 for it.
“This is a good example for anyone who ever says ‘My vote doesn’t matter,’ ” Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “I’m floored by how close these numbers are.”

Neuzil will be busy next week when the supervisors review the votes, matching the numbers from the Auditor’s Office with the actual tickets to ensure they are correct.

In an election in which only 15.4 percent of county residents voted, the turnout was still greater than the previous local-option tax election, in 2007, when 14.22 percent cast ballots. The School Infrastructure Local Option sales-tax passed that year.

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett — also a member of the pro-tax group Yes for All — said he was unhappy with the city’s results.

“Because of the fact that we’re using it strictly to help the flood victims, I’m disappointed people didn’t vote to help their neighbor,” he said.

Deborah Thornton, a member of the antitax group Ax the Tax, noted the tight results.

“Given the fact that we were up against the Johnson County government elite, we consider a 50-50 draw a victory,” she said.

UI freshman Sophie Milord, who voted Tuesday at the UI Main Library, said collecting money for flood projects is a good idea. But she is concerned not all of the funds will go toward that cause.

“I didn’t like the tax they proposed; it’s supposed to be going for flood relief, but not all of the money is going toward that,” the 19-year-old said. “I would have preferred if they would have stated more clearly where the money was going.”

Slockett said people might have been confused about where the funds would be directed because the money would be split up among 13 different communities for a variety of projects.

Funds accumulated from the tax will go toward projects in the areas that passed it, while those areas who didn’t will not see any of the dollars.

“The people have to understand that they can’t stop the tax from being imposed in certain areas,” Slockett said. “The only thing they can determine is if their jurisdiction will get funds from it.”
Neuzil said the results of the election are still uncertain. If voters want a recount, it has to be requested within three days.

“We have to throw a little caution to the wind,” he said. “Let’s see if these numbers hold up.”


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