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Three years ago, the county-based mental health and disability services (MH/DS) system was redesigned.  Nearly everything about the system changed.  Redesign made the system more efficient by forming regions, created better access to services by making a basic (core) set of services available throughout the state, and made sure stakeholders had a say in the system and there was good state oversight. 

In the three years since redesign, Iowa's property taxpayers have seen their tax bills reduced by $35 million, while seeing access to core services expand.  The state also saved money in redesign.  In 2009 the state's total investment in the system was $244 million; last year it was $2 million.  This year, the Governor recommends no funding.  Unfortunately, while the system was improved, its funding was not. 

This year, a broad coalition of counties, providers, and stakeholder advocacy groups are supporting a change to allow counties to fund their systems entirely with property taxes, breaking the need for state funds that have never been reliable. Their bill (SF 2236) would allow county boards of supervisors to increase levies up to the existing $47.28 per person cap.  Right now counties locked into a lower per capita rate rely on state funds to make up the difference, and those state funds have dried up. Doing this will allow at least 73 counties to lower their property taxes by $22.9 million, and allow 8 counties that are in trouble to raise theirs by $15.4 million. That's still an overall statewide $7.5 million cut in property taxes.

Supporters of this change say it is unfair to expect regions to pay for 2016 services with 1996 funds.  Supporters also say doing nothing will mean property taxes will increase, as the law requiring counties that were collecting above the $47.28 cap to lower their tax levies ends on June 30, 2016.  They also say that doing nothing also means thousands of Iowans will lose services, at least one region will break apart, and the taxpayer money spent to date on efficiencies would be wasted as the system starts to collapse.  Supporters also are quick to point out that elected county supervisors will be the ones to decide whether or not to raise taxes, and they must answer directly to the taxpayers who keep them in office.

Opponents say its a property tax increase, and they can't support it.  Groups like the Iowa Farm Bureau say that property taxes should only pay for property-related items (like fire, police), and should not be used for services like these.  There are many legislators that are caught in between - they know that the services are needed, they know there are no state funds to pay for them, but they do not want to vote on a bill that may increase property taxes.

If you receive services from your MH/DS region, now is the time to let your legislators know what you think should be done and why the services you receive are important to you. Many legislators do not know what services are paid for by the regions, so take some time to explain what those services are and why you need them.

  • Call your Senator (Monday-Thursday) at 515.281.3371.
  • Call your Representative (Monday-Thursday) at 515.281.3221.
  • Email your legislators with one click using our Grassroots Advocacy Center here.
  • Find out who your legislators are here (or they are listed on the back of your mailed newsletter).
  • Find your legislators in person at a local public forum on Fridays and Saturdays (details here).

Here are two examples from counties in immediate trouble:

  • Polk County collected $14.4 million in MH/DS property taxes in 1996, and collects the same amount in 2016.
  • Population grew during that 20 years by 110,000 people (33%).
  • In 1996, Polk County was collecting $46.30 per capita.
  • In 2016, Polk County is collecting $31.40 per capita (but needs $47.28 to maintain services).
  • An increase to $47.28 means a person who owns a $100,000 home in Polk County would pay just $17/year more.
  • Without a fix, Polk County needs $7.1 million to maintain services, or 1,600 people will lose services.
  • Scott County collected $3.3 million in MH/DS property taxes in 1996, and collects the same in 2016.
  • Population grew during that 20 years by 15,375 people (10%).
  • Scott County is in a five-county region with Cedar, Clinton, Jackson, and Muscatine Counties.
  • In 2016, Scott County is collecting $19.30 per capita.
  • Scott's per capita rate is the lowest in the region (Cedar $47.28; Clinton $37.53; Jackson $40.40; Muscatine $47.28).
  • Property taxpayers in the other counties have had taxes go up to pay for services used by Scott County residents (because Scott County can never collect more than $3.3 million in taxes despite population growth).
  • Scott County needs to raise its rates to $38.50, so that they can pay for the services their residents use, and taxes in the other four counties can be reduced.
  • Without a fix, Scott County will need about $2 million or the region will break apart by the end of 2016 and services to hundreds will be in jeopardy.