The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Option sales tax: This time metro area not in it together

In City Hall on February 4, 2009 at 8:43 am

The new state legislation that has permitted an expedited referendum on a local-option sales tax in counties declared disaster areas also changes another thing.

In a typical local-option sales tax election, state law requires that cities whose borders touch vote as a bloc. The tax does not pass anywhere in the bloc if the total vote in the bloc is against it. One city might pass it in the bloc, but they don’t collect the tax if the bloc as a whole rejects the tax. However, if the bloc passes the tax but one city in the bloc rejects it, the city rejecting the tax doesn’t collect it and doesn’t get any of the revenue that the tax generates.

As a case in point, the cities of Marion and Robins passed a local-option sales tax in 2003 but the voting block of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and Robins as whole voted the tax down. The 2003 vote was the one in which the city of Cedar Rapids was trying to obtain local revenue for its Vision Iowa project, River Run. Some voters didn’t like the white-water kayak course that was part of the project.

This time – the March 3 vote – is different, reports Joel Gabrielson, of the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Gabrielson notes that the new, one-time piece of legislation eliminates voting blocs of contiguous cities.

The idea behind the legislation is to help disaster areas, and in particular, Cedar Rapids. Marion, Hiawatha and Robins, who are in the voting bloc, don’t need the money for disaster recovery.

Gabrielson notes that consumers might get a little confused if they pay the tax in Cedar Rapids and drive a block and don’t pay it in Marion, which has been one reason to have metro cities vote together.

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