The following is a story I wrote for my Public Affairs Reporting class.
March 10, 2024

On February 7, Polk County’s Budget Manager Deb Anderson revealed its initial budget proposal for the fiscal year 2024/2025. In a presentation to the Polk County Board of Supervisors, Anderson outlined how the county would spend $378 million. Some of the biggest changes include $2.5 million to Polk County Conservation as they near the reopening of Sleepy Hollow, improvements to Polk County jail, $1 million to implement school radio amplifies for law enforcement and a new high school internship program for six students.

However, the county is trying to do a lot more with a lot less.

“When we previously talked about the board’s budget, there was a $3 million hit from House File 718 in the general basic fund,” said Anderson.

House File 718, which passed last May with bipartisan support, caps levy rates for cities and counties. Gov. Kim Reynolds said the plan would save taxpayers $100 million. But communities are now having to grapple with a reduction in their budgets. Local governments across the state are capped at $8.10 per $1,000 in taxable value in their general fund levy, $3.50 per $1,000 for general services and $3.95 for rural services.

But, growing communities with revenue growth, like Polk County, are further required to lower property taxes. Local governments are placed into three tiers to determine how much excess revenue must be dedicated to lower property taxes.

Polk County’s general basic levy rate was reduced from $3.50 to $3.40 due to House File 718. According to Anderson, each penny generated $320,000, resulting in a $3 million loss in the budget. The cap will continue to shrink as long as the county’s taxable valuation exceeds 3% annually, which traditionally it has. Last year, the county saw an 8.1% increase in taxable valuation. This means the cap will be reduced by 7-10 cents every other year.

“In summary, we get penalized for being successful and growing or rewarded for being unsuccessful and not growing,” said Polk County Administrator John Norris.

“It hurts all the growing communities and it’s especially difficult for a city like Ankeny that’s opening a new school building every year,” added District 1 Supervisor Matt McCoy. “I don’t know what the end game is for growing communities because they’re going to stifle the growth at some point by not allowing them to provide the services that they need.”

As a result, the county will have to use other means of gathering funds.

“Beginning next year, we will begin bonding for more items than we previously had,” said Anderson. “We were previously paying for capitals and housing commitments from our general basic fund. Due to the levy rate cap, we’re now going to shift to bonding for those items instead.”

This also means the county must disapprove of some of the proposed budget items including $255,000 to fund the county’s pre-trial release program, a $358,000 armored vehicle, a full-time county attorney social worker position and multiple proposed Polk County Conservation positions.

The Board of Supervisors invites the public to provide feedback on the proposed budget before a final vote at the regular meeting on March 26.