Johnson County elected officials wary of Branstad property tax plan


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New Republican proposals are pushing to slow property-tax increases, but opponents warn the plans would hurt local governments.

A report from Gov. Terry Branstad's office released this week projected local property taxes around the state will jump more than $2 billion between 2014 and 2022, according to the Associated Press. To deal with the projected increase, Branstad is pushing the Legislature to limit property-tax increases.

But opponents say a one-size-fits-all tax policy for the state won't work.

"That's the goofiest prediction; that's all political," said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville. "As a matter of fact, the only way to reduce residential [taxes] is to show some guts."

Jacoby said many Iowans flock to Johnson County even though its residential and commercial property taxes are some of the highest in the state.

Current legislation won't fix high property taxes, he said, and Branstad's prediction of skyrocketing residential taxes is not founded on any facts.

"The current bills, the governor's bill, and the House Republican bill are probably the worst tax-policy bills I've ever seen," he said. "They may reduce commercial [taxes], but they will raise homeowners' [taxes]."

Another local Democrat agreed.

"Anybody can say all taxes are too high," said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville. "[In] some instances, property taxes are maybe percentage-wise too high for those properties. I don't think you can blanket [property taxes being high statewide]."

Dvorsky and Jacoby said Branstad and legislators who support his proposal need to determine which property tax areas are too high and which are reasonable, rather than cut increases across the board.

"The only way to get to the bottom of it is to look at property taxes paid by agriculture, residential, and commercial [properties]," Dvorsky said.

Jacoby agreed that legislators need to consider all aspects of property taxes in order to find a solution that will work.

However, other policymakers agree with the Republican governor.

"If we don't do something with [the tax rates], they are going to get out of control," said Sen. Robert Bacon, R-Maxwell. "If we don't make some adjustments in the next year or two, property taxes are just going to be ridiculously high."

Some Iowa City city councilors agreed with Branstad but said forcing municipalities into lower property-tax rates will leave cities strapped for cash.

"I agree with him that property taxes are high and they should be reduced," said Councilor Connie Champion. "He's got to find another way for cities to raise money. He doesn't give alternatives, he just says they are too high."

Johnson County Board of Supervisors' Chairman Terrence Neuzil said overall he's satisfied with local tax rates but that governing bodies in the area might do a better job coordinating tax hikes.

"A lot of people will look at a elected official and point the finger," he said. "I am concerned that collectively as a community, we don't do enough to coordinate increases in taxes."

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