Iowa communities consider next stepSibley the only government to pass 1 percent sales tax; others examine reason for failure
By: Kari Lucin, Worthington Daily Globe
SIBLEY, Iowa — Nearly a month after a 1 percent sales tax failed at the polls in Iowa cities Ashton, Ocheyedan, Harris and Melvin, as well as in Osceola County, Iowa, local officials are still determining why.
“We didn’t have it before and we survived, and we’ll survive now,” said Gary Benz, mayor of Melvin.
Melvin’s vote on the tax issue was tied 14-14, which meant it failed. If it had passed, Melvin would have received an estimated $12,000 in additional revenue.
“It would have gone to our general budget,” Benz said. “We’re looking at coating our streets and got a quote of $30,000. It would have gone a long ways to helping us in taking care of our infrastructure.”
Sibley, Iowa, was the only government in Osceola County to succeed in passing the 1 percent sales tax, which will likely garner more than $200,000 in funds for the city.
“’Tax’ is a four-letter word in Osceola County,” said S.L. Martin, Sibley’s city administrator. “They say, ‘No more big government spending.’”
The five cities, as well as the county, had the same exact language on their ballots Jan. 8, and if all the cities and the county had passed the tax measure, the money would have been doled out among them all.
Sibley is the largest city in the county and the county seat, and thus produces about 65 percent of the sales tax activity in the county. Under the state’s revenue-sharing plan, the smaller cities and Osceola County would have been given a chunk of Sibley’s 1 percent.
Because the tax did not pass anywhere but in Sibley, the City of Sibley will retain its revenue, meaning it will keep about $60,000 that would have gone to the other cities and Osceola County.
Voters may therefore be more willing to support the tax if it comes up on the ballot again.
“Before, it was ‘nobody should have this tax,’ and it’s changed to ‘Sibley has that tax, do we want to share in that revenue?’” Martin said.
Even in Sibley, the vote for the tax was 207-188, hardly a landslide. Everywhere else, the tax failed, and for the most part by a far greater margin than in Melvin. Ashton residents voted against the tax 42-30, Harris citizens voted it down 21-10, and Ocheyedan residents voted against it 54-28.
The biggest margin, however, was in the unincorporated parts of Osceola County, which voted the tax down 208-59. Had the sales tax passed in the county, it would have received $195,000 in revenue — even more than Sibley.
“They just said they weren’t informed enough,” said Darwin Beltman, vice chairman of the Osceola County Board of Supervisors.
Extra revenue for the county would likely have gone toward infrastructure costs, paying off loans and supporting development along Iowa 60 that would produce more revenue for the county in the future.
Ocheyedan Mayor Arlyn Pedley was surprised at how soundly the sales tax was voted down in his community.
“I really think people didn’t understand how it was going to work and what it was going to be on and what it wasn’t going to be on,” Pedley said.
The tax would have enabled the county to take advantage of visitors to the area who used the county’s services but did not own property there. The upgrade of Iowa 60 was a major focus for most talk about the tax.
Ocheyedan would have been able to replace older equipment, make improvements to the city park and upkeep city buildings, Pedley said.
“There’s a lot of different areas that it could have gone, for good (causes),” Pedley added.
Martin noted that it often takes two elections to pass a sales tax.
So far, the other cities and the county have not determined whether they will return to voters and ask them to pass the tax again.
“I think there’s been a wave of citizen interest in doing things more progressively,” Martin said.