Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

State backfill vital for cities

By Michael Halley | Aug 10, 2017

To the editor:

Nearly two-thirds of Iowans live in urban areas, where cities provide essential services for their citizens: police and fire protection, clean water, wastewater treatment, and street maintenance. Citizens also expect quality of life opportunities, such as public libraries and parks and recreation facilities. Most of these services are funded by property taxes levied on urban residential, rental, commercial, and industrial properties.

In 2013, the Iowa Legislature passed a bi-partisan property tax reduction bill, specifically for commercial and industrial properties. Recognizing that this change would reduce the revenue available for cities to provide for their citizens, legislators included a “backfill” provision that aims to reduce the financial impact of the tax cuts by providing cities with additional state funding. The alternative for cities is to raise local property tax rates to cover costs of services.

Faced with state-level budget shortfalls, state legislators have discussed reducing or eliminating the backfill. This would place an additional fiscal burden on city governments to maintain services the state does not offer.

Some have claimed that cities no longer need the backfill. While many cities, including Fairfield, did not include the backfill in their current fiscal year budgets as a precaution, that does not mean that those dollars are not very much needed.

In FY 2017, Fairfield’s share of the backfill is $193,669.04. Those funds can be used for several city employee’s salaries, or to repave our roads, or to purchase much needed equipment. Without them the city must balance the budget by either taking in more property tax revenue, or cutting city services. Neither option is optimal.

I urge our state legislators to honor the commitment made to cities in 2013 by maintaining funding for the backfill.


– Michael Halley, Fairfield

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