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Trio of Iowa mayors discuss property tax transparency

JOHNSTON — The mayor of Council Bluffs says Iowa’s property tax system has been “broken” for decades and needs a complete overhaul. Mayor Matt Walsh comments come after the 2019 Iowa legislature passed a bill requiring new public notices and a super majority vote when city councils raise property taxes more than two percent.

“They tinker with it and try to make it workable,” Walsh says. “At this point, it’s like a piece of machinery. You can only repair it so many times. It no longer works.”

Walsh said property taxes put Council Bluffs at a “distinct disadvantage” with Omaha.

“No doubt there’s need for property tax reform. I don’t think the legislature accomplished what they wanted to accomplish,” Walsh said. “I don’t think it added any transparency.”

Walsh and mayors from eastern and central Iowa discussed property taxes during taping of “Iowa Press” which aired over the weekend on Iowa Public Television. North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue said posting public notices about property taxes online and in newspapers won’t be a problem.

“When we go through our public process, we have three or four public meetings where people can come in, see what maybe the preliminary budget may be,” Donahue said. “If they wish to make a comment, they’re certainly welcome to do so. We have a public hearing that’s mandated when we do the final adoption. I don’t see that as a problem at all. It’s just adding, maybe, an extra step.”

Nevada Mayor Brett Barker was at the statehouse, lobbying against a previous proposal that included a statewide cap on property tax increases.

“Legislators listened. They made changes,” Barker said. “A lot of the unintended consequences we were concerned about were mitigated in the final version of the bill.”

Barker said the legislation’s public notice requirements may help the public better understand the existing property tax system.

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