The meeting of October 7 featured a presentation by Rick Dobyns on the Local Option Sales Tax and other issues on the November local ballot.  Dobyns in a member of the Iowa City City Counsel and a member of AM Rotary.

Happy October birthday to Vernette Knapp and Jack Cameron!

President Mark opened the October 7 meeting with baseball stories.  Here’s one sample: One old man falls ill and on his death bed a friend asks him to find out if there is baseball in heaven.  The sick friend dies, and then comes back. He tells the live friend, “I’ve some good news and bad news.  The good news is there is baseball in heaven; the bad news is you are pitching next Wednesday.” 

Rotarians in the News

Randy Willman noted that Rick Dobyns was mentioned in the newspaper as was Jack Tank’s daughter who is having her wedding in a big Chicago hotel.

Phil Peterson talked about the island nation of Nauru location in Micronesia.  This island is about 2500 miles to shopping. It is a very small island of 8.5 square miles with only 2 countries smaller in size. It takes 20 minutes to drive around the whole island.  Nauru has a population of only 13000. It has the dubious distinction of being the fattest nation on earth and a high percentage of its citizens have diabetes.  Germany held this island until WWI and then Japan held it during WWII.  It became a US trusteeship after the war and in 1968 became a separate country.  Nauru is known for having phosphates and because of this had a high per capita income in the 1960s and 1970s.  Now the whole interior of the island is one big strip mine.  Nauru has also obtained money by allowing itself to be bribed by other countries in need of votes in the UN.  Nauru has one Rotary club. It uses its resources to help clean up and fund a local hospital, among other social projects.


Mark reminded members of the Joint Service Club meeting on Thursday, Oct. 9, the Oct. 15 Grant writing workshop in West Liberty and the October 23 Fireside Chat at Jean Bartley’s.  The address for Jean Bartley is 505 Whiting Ave., Iowa City.  It is close to Shimek School.

Xicotepec, Mexico—The application for the March 14-22 trip is online at the new Xicotepec project page.

Brian Adamec will take nut orders until October 14.

Rotary attendance—The list is out for the past quarter’s attendance. Check the list.


Rick Dobyns talked about City of Iowa City issues in general and the LOST tax in particular.  He primarily went into Q and A mode because he wanted to inform and not attempt to steer voters in one direction.

Rick recommended that everyone look at a recent Press Citizen  article about the Local Option Sales Tax for some basic information about how the tax is set up.  Basically, if a community has not voted for a local option sales tax, the tax goes back to the home-base of the shopper and not to the place where they spent the money.  The Local Option Sales Tax, while it is considered regressive by some, is a way to keep 1 cent of every dollar spent buying non-essential products in the community where the money is spent in order to support development in that community. The argument is that the community where the store is located should get the money, not the community where the shopper is from, because the community with the commercial development had the wherewithal to build and support the development.

Cities in Iowa exist on a thin margin of financial support.  The Local Option Sales Tax is one of the few financial instruments cities have in their arsenal to pay for needed improvements. The vast amount of what is spent in a city’s budget is fixed and unable to be decreased without considerable loss in service quality.  The feds have reduced what is given out in highway funds, and the state has reduced its funding to cities as well.  The Local Option Sales Tax is one of the few ways cities can help to regain funding that has been lost from other sources.

Iowa City is one of the few cities without the LOST.  If someone from Linn County visits a Java House in Iowa City, their Cedar Rapids money goes back to Cedar Rapids because Iowa City does not have the 1 cent LOST tax. 

Karin Franklin asked about the formula in distribution and noted that the regressive nature of any sales tax is a major reason why Iowa City voters have voted against the LOST in the past. Dobyns feels the regressiveness is minimized as much as possible because basic needs are not taxed.  If you go out for coffee there is tax, but not on the pound of coffee at the store.  Health care is not taxed. There was a question about the jail issue on the ballot and Dobyns noted it is a separate issue and the vote for that matter is on the back of the ballot for Johnson County voters.  The Jail and Court House issues have been decoupled and the jail building is actually not part of the current ballot.

The Iowa City LOST measure is partly earmarked for tax relief for homeowners, affordable housing and  for street and road repair.  The affordable housing aspect is really unique in Iowa. The measure will last for 10 years if passed.

Dobyns noted that for all of Johnson County we are like one big city for this vote.  It will either pass or fail as a unit, not city by city within Johnson County.  However, money that gets collected will go back to the city where the money was spent.

TIFs are another entirely different way cities can fund projects.  Coralville perhaps has gotten more out of TIF funding, while Iowa City may have more potential from LOST. No matter what one may feel about the way Coralville has used Tax Increment Financing, it is hard to argue against the enhanced landing area in Coralville since the area was redeveloped.

Rural Johnson County must vote for the LOST in order to get any benefit. If they don’t vote for it, they will not be included, unlike the individual cities within the County.

How much money will we get?  The estimate is that 21 cents on the dollar will come back to Johnson County because people from a wide area tend to shop in Johnson County.  This is a good reason for voting for this measure.  Essentially only Des Moines is the only other city in Iowa without the LOST, so we become increasingly isolated in terms of who gets the benefit when we don’t have it available to our communities in the form of tax revenue.

Liz Nichols

Note taker