Johnson County supervisors voice concerns over proposed bills in the Iowa legislature

The supervisors noted their concern on how each of the bills would not only affect the county, but also cities in the county and residents.


Madyson Gomez

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors listen to speakers during a Board of Superviors meeting in the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City.

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

Several Johnson County Supervisors are concerned about bills in the Iowa Legislature that would affect county board elections, local option sales taxes, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Senate File 181, one of the bills that some supervisors are concerned about, was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday. The law had passed earlier in the Iowa House in an 86-13 vote before unanimously passing in the Senate.

The new law introduces a tax rollback and prevents a $133 million residential property tax increase from going into effect. It was created after changes made to tax law from 2013-2021 that used incorrect mathematical formulas, leading to taxpayers paying 2 percent more than they should have.

Before the new law was passed, Supervisor Jon Green said he was opposed to the bill and that it would ultimately harm cities the most.

“I don’t think this is going to be as big of a deal for us in fiscal 24, but it’s really going to set fire to a lot of city budgets in the county I’m afraid. The legislature screwed up, and instead of them using some of their $2 billion surplus funds to pay for their mistake, they’re just going to, once again, dump this into the laps of local governments,” he said. “With the other restrictions on our revenue authorities, in many cases, it’s going to mean that programming or staff are going to have to be cut.”

Supervisors Chair Lisa Green-Douglass said the new law affects property taxes, a problem considering property taxes make up a significant portion of the county’s revenue. She said the bill would also change the timeline for when counties finalize their budgets and taxes, especially problematic since the county has begun finalizing both things.

“We have final votes on it in March and then we submit that budget to the state by their deadlines, which are in March, but they’re talking about changing the timeline. And doing these things will require us to go back into our budget because of a change in how much of those monies generated locally can stay locally,” Green-Douglass said.

The law would introduce a property tax rollback. The bill would “prevent a $133 million residential property tax increase from going into effect.

In agreement with her is Vice Chair Rod Sullivan, who similarly voiced his frustrations of having to go back and re-do the county’s budgets.

“We just spent a lot of time putting our budget to bed. We don’t feel that it is asking too much of taxpayers, we think it’s reasonable, and we think it does a lot of good things. And just as much as anything structurally, after we just got it done and are ready to submit it, to ask us to go back in and redo it, it’s just kind of crazy. It’s an unbelievable amount of work,” Sullivan said.

Potential county board election changes

Green said he is concerned about other bills, including House File 281, which would change how county supervisors are elected.

Under this bill, counties with populations over 60,000 would have to adopt “plan three,” which would divide counties into five districts, with one supervisor coming from each district and with two methods of electing the supervisors.

“In one way, everybody in the county can vote for all five districts,” Green said. “The second way, only residents living in the district vote for their one supervisor, so instead of every voter in Johnson County having the opportunity to weigh in on all five supervisors every two to four years, you would only have the opportunity to weigh in on one supervisor every four years.”

In the case of this bill, Green said counties would have to follow the second method, where residents could only vote for supervisors in their district. He added the bill would become effective in 2024, meaning his and supervisor V Fixmer-Oraiz’s terms would be ended early.

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Green and Fixmer-Oraiz were elected in the November 2022 election, with their terms ending in 2026.

This is a stark contrast from the county’s current system, which is known as plan one, under which supervisors are elected at-large in one multi-member district. The other plan is plan two, where supervisors are elected from equal-population districts, but residents can still elect all supervisors.

Local option sales tax bill

A bill affecting local options sale tax (LOST), Senate Study Bill 1124, is a tax that cities or other forms of local government can use to fund things like local programs. Currently, cities and counties can approve a 1 percent LOST tax.

“The method for doing that involves the unit of government, whether it’s a city or county, to write a revenue statement laying out broadly or specifically what the revenue is going to be used for and 50 percent of the revenue has to be used for property tax relief,” Green said. “So, for every dollar that a local option sales tax brings into a city or county, 50 cents of that can be spent on whatever programming that is specified in the revenue statement.”

Green said the bill from the legislature would eliminate LOST, and instead raises taxes state-wide. This would be a particularly big blow, he said, to cities like Lone Tree that rely on LOST.

Sullivan said he was also concerned by the bill affecting LOST, saying the changes would affect cities reliant on it.

“Johnson County doesn’t have a local option sales tax, but a lot of places do. The voters voted for it with a specific purpose in mind, and for the state to come in and say, ‘Well, we’re going to take that money and use it for something else,’ I think it actually ought to be illegal. It’s crazy to me,” Sullivan said.

“Don’t Say Gay” bill

Sullivan said the “Don’t Say Gay” and other bills targeting LGBTQ+ groups, such as the transgender bill, are a concern.

The bills would restrict gender and sexuality instruction and out K-12 students who identify as LGBTQ+ to their parents.

“This governor says she cares about mental health and then does all kinds of things to attack the folks who are most vulnerable to having a mental health crisis. It’s just cruel and mean, and uncalled for,” Sullivan said.

Green said the problem with the legislature is one of unnecessary cruelty from those in power.

“There is just so much toxic stuff floating around that doesn’t directly affect county governments, whether it’s the education bills, you know, [or] all of this culture war [stuff],” Green said. “You know, the tone of this legislature is cruelty compounded by incompetence.”