Iowa City launches online survey to get public input on next year’s budget

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Iowa City Hall — photo by Zak Neumann

The calendar on the wall may say 2018, but fiscal year 2019 started on July 1 — as fiscal years always do — and planning is already underway in Iowa City for FY 2020. The city has posted an online survey to get public input on what the spending priorities should be in its next budget.

The five-question survey asks readers to select the 10 most important issues for the city to address in its budget from a list of 24 choices, and to choose what they consider to be the most important of the seven strategic goals the city council has identified. The final three questions allow readers to write in specific projects or programs they want the city to prioritize.

During a public input session on FY 2020 budget priorities at City Hall on Monday night, Simon Andrew explained two of the most important issues the city has to address in upcoming budgets: a growing population and the limitations the state’s “rollback” of property taxes for businesses.

“We expect that in this decade we will add more people in the community than we have in any decade in the city’s history other than the 1960s,” Andrew, assistant to the city manager, told a packed room. Between 2010 and 2017, Iowa City’s population increased by almost 8,000, and the city has to provide services for all those new residents, Andrew pointed out.

That population increase is happening at the same time limitations on property taxes for commercial properties — signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2013 — constrain the city’s ability to raise revenue. As a result of that law, the amount of an apartment building’s assessed value subject to property taxes has declined to 75 percent in FY 2020, which represents a reduction of $2 million in city revenue, according to Andrew. These incremental reductions in commercial properties’ taxable value are scheduled to continue until it reaches 63.75 percent in FY 2023.

Property taxes are the largest source of revenue for the city, and provide 65 percent of the city’s general fund.

Even with that state-mandated limitation on revenue, Iowa City’s finances are still in good shape, Andrew said. The city’s overall tax base has grown in recent years, and the city has earned the highest bond credit rating from Moody’s Investor Services. Only three cities in the state have Moody’s AAA rating.

The city’s budgeting process for FY 2020 is still in its earliest stages. The city council must pass the next budget and have it certified by the county auditor’s office by March 15.

The survey will be online until Monday, August 13.

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