Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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July 20, 2008

Sullivan’s Salvos 7/22/08

It is Fair week! I hope you get the chance to get out and explore the Johnson County Fair. Free parking, no fee to enter, great food, exposure to our local agricultural community, entertainment… this is a must-do event!
I would like to particularly urge you to make a point of exploring the 4H exhibits at Montgomery Hall… this part of the Fair is too often overlooked.

RAGBRAI hits Johnson County Thursday and Friday, with an overnight in North Liberty on Thursday. While this marks North Liberty’s first time as an overnight host, I have no doubt that the community is up to the task.
I hope my friends with the Sutliff Bridge Authority will be taking donations on Friday, when RAGBRAI heads through.

The Board recently addressed the topic of property tax abatements for properties affected by the recent floods. I am opposed to property tax abatement. Here are eleven reasons why:
1. The taxes paid are based on the assessment from two years ago. Taxpayers are paying for services already provided, based upon the condition of the property at that time. This is VERY important – here is why. After the 1993 floods, almost every valuation in the flooded areas went up considerably (when compared to pre-flood valuations) within one year. If people choose not to rebuild, their taxes will reflect it next time.
2. Abatements affect ALL taxing bodies; in Iowa City and Coralville, about 40% of each tax dollar goes to the ICCSD.
3. Abatements take tax money that governments require in order to operate. Governments have incurred tremendous costs through this whole process. Cities (and counties) can (and perhaps should!) address the needs of homeowners and business owners in other ways. Johnson County is already providing assistance to anyone affected by the flood, regardless of income, through a substantial donation to the United Way Flood Relief Fund. Other folks can qualify for additional County benefits based upon income and resource guidelines.
4. Similarly, governmental budgets are built upon the expectation that a certain dollar amount will be collected in taxes. If a government can suddenly decide to forego this income, what in the hell were they doing collecting it in the first place?
5. Affected people do not expect MidAmerican to provide free gas and electric, Hy-Vee to give them free groceries, or BP to provide free gas. Why would they expect local governments to provide costly services with no revenue? Why is the public sector expected to forgo revenues when the private sector is not?
6. I write frequently about the inequities in our tax system, and the idea of a property tax abatement strikes at the heart of these inequities. A person who rents a trailer in North Liberty and works at a fast food place on the Strip is now out of a job. If the Board grants a property tax abatement, she gets nothing. On the other hand, a guy who owns 200 apartment units and lost 8 of them to the flood gets a tax break. Granted, I understand that he has very real losses. But what about her? I believe that the role of government is to provide a hand up for those who need it, not to comfort the comfortable.
7. People who lost property to the flood are far from the neediest among us. Only 50% of the population in Johnson County owns a home. There are lots of poor folks out there who lost their rental homes and never owned anything to begin with. A person with a home has a valuable asset that almost half of us lack. If taxes become such a burden that you feel it is no longer worth owning property, sell the property. This sounds callous when posed to a flood victim, but we need to look at all flood victims, not just property owners.
8. Some of the affected businesses are run by local franchisees that will need help. Other businesses are corporately owned, by companies with billions of dollars in assets. If we can only help one, which should we help? Abatements give us no control over that situation.
9. Some people always assume that landlords deserve a set amount of profit. If an individual invests in the stock market, we assume she took some level of risk. If the person invests in gold, we assume she took some level of risk. When a person invests in the local real estate market, we assume she is somehow entitled to a certain profit. We do not hear the tax hawk politicians pleading with landlords to accept less profit and help out flood victims; it is somehow the job of government to help them. Yet do it with less tax revenue.
10. Deciding which circumstances qualified for abatement and which did not would be a very difficult process.
11. Finally - and I REALLY want to emphasize this - I am not opposed to helping people who need help! As a matter of fact, I think that is one of the primary roles of government. I just think tax abatements are a dubious way to do that. For example, say a billionaire landlord who lives in Chicago wants an abatement. I'm not sure he needs a tax break the way others might. If they all just pay, we can redirect money to those most in need.
So, what do you think? Should the Johnson County Board of Supervisors have voted to abate property taxes in the affected areas? I want to know what you think!

DID YOU KNOW? Over 3.7 million Veterans and/or their beneficiaries receive pension benefits from the VA.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website- .

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