The cold hard truth

Mark Eaton


On Feb 13, the city of Marshalltown posted their position statement on the property tax rate for FY2019. While three county supervisors and their staff have been able to eliminate county debt, reduce property taxes to offset the new tax for the 911 Commission AND start a savings plan for future projects, the gang-of-eight leading Marshalltown has doubled the city’s debt during the same period of time and had planned to increase property taxes in FY2019 to pay for it. Lucky for them, in 2017 the citizens of Marshalltown voted to give them unrestricted access to half a million dollars in local option sales tax money originally meant for road and sewer repairs. Also, by luck, the 911 Commission was passed and the city could cost shift $582,000 in the General Fund to purposes other than the salaries and benefits of the 911 employees. Who will pay these people now? You will! How? By a new tax that will show up on your next property tax bill. Although it is true that the city is holding your property tax rate fixed at $15.28/$1,000, your overall tax burden WILL INCREASE to pay for the new 911 Commission.

The city must make a debt payment in FY2019 of $6,787,981 in principle, interest, and fees. Property taxes collected on Marshalltown properties equals $6,754,419 plus $14,068 for Ag land in the city. That means the city’s debt payment exceeds income from property taxes by $19,494. How can they owe more than they bring in and still pay the daily bills? The answer — use local option sales tax, a 911 Commission tax, double storm water runoff fees, increase your sewer bill 24 percent, a tax to support the library, increase all fees for city services like driveway permits, apply for a myriad of grants, plus transfer money from the Road Use Tax and other departments into the General Fund.

The mayor plainly states in the city’s position statement that “Local option Sales Tax is not a guaranteed funding source …” This is true. So what is the plan to reduce the city’s debt? Could it be more tax programs, or increased service fees like water rates? Maybe the county should take over. Hopefully $14,392 in new laptops will help the council solve this challenge.