When it comes to property taxes, silence only encourages local governments to keep growing their spending.
When traveling around Iowa, our team visits individuals and business owners in their local communities. The major concern that we hear over and over is the weight of the property tax burden. Iowans, whether in the Des Moines Metro or in rural Henry County, are concerned with the growing cost of their property tax bills. Many feel that local elected officials are not listening to their worries. This past legislative session legislators were responsive to high property taxes and passed a comprehensive measure to reform Iowa’s complicated property tax system. More work is needed, but this was a crucial first step.
Nevertheless, while the legislature can enact positive reforms to help rein in property taxes, the best tool for a lower tax bill resides with citizen engagement. Iowans for Tax Relief and Iowans for Tax Relief Foundation are helping citizens to engage with their local governments through a refreshed and relaunched version of ITR Local. ITR Local is a one-stop-shop website that equips taxpayers with the information they need to have an impactful conversation with their local governments.
The primary objective of ITR Local is to empower Iowans by providing them with crucial information about their city, county, and school district. Users can access property tax, debt, and spending data, which are essential for engaging in meaningful discussions with local elected officials. With ITR Local, individuals have all the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and contribute to the discussion on the future of their communities.
Taxpayers can learn about how their city, county, and school district spends their tax dollars, and how their property taxes have grown over time in comparison to the growth of population and inflation. ITR Local also provides general information for citizens to understand how the property tax system functions.
In a recent Main Street meeting we held in Southwest Iowa, a taxpayer wanted to know why her city’s property tax collections saw a double-digit increase. The explanation was simple: property taxes went up considerably because the city council decided to spend considerably more dollars. Local government spending, not the state legislature or the assessor, is responsible for Iowans’ property tax bills.
Even with property taxes being a top concern, very few of us actually participate in local government. Over 70 percent of those polled recently stated that they have never attended a city council, county supervisor, or school board meeting. In addition, only a small percentage have contacted their local elected officials.
The lack of participation can be understandable. Speaking in front of a government board can be intimidating. Plus, many citizens are not informed of the details of local government finance. This is where ITR Local can empower taxpayers with a more complete view of their community’s fiscal situation.
Beyond any spending or debt details, though, it is important for taxpayers to share their personal stories with local elected officials. Officials need to hear how individuals and businesses are making tough budget decisions as a result of inflation and be reminded that local governments should be forced to do the same.
Too often local governments will scare taxpayers by stating that reforms to the property tax systems will force drastic budget cuts as they threaten to scale back emergency services. These tactics are meant to distract taxpayers from the real issue at hand (the growth in their local budgets), and shift their focus elsewhere. This is why it is important for taxpayers to be informed about their local government’s spending.
Citizen engagement and knowledge is the key to better communities and lower property tax bills. It was citizens communicating directly with their state lawmakers which has led to the passage of numerous state-level tax reforms. State legislators have heard the taxpayer loud and clear, and now it is time for local government officials to hear the same thing. When it comes to property taxes, silence only encourages local governments to keep growing their spending.