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Bill would increase cost, reduce transparency

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 11:34 a.m. CST

Iowa House Republicans have authored a bill and run it through the House Judiciary Committee (House Study Bill 508) that would eliminate the publication of property tax equalization notices in local newspapers. Instead, county auditors would be required to alert affected property owners by direct mail.

Just this month, the price of postage once again increased. But before that, the cost of mailing hundreds of equalization notices already cost more than one public notice in the three newspapers of record in Jasper County. This measure will cost taxpayers more money.

But, more importantly, it will further erode government transparency.

The public notice is the only truly objective and comprehensive account detailing the actions of our elected officials. These notices are published in newspapers to assure distribution and readership.

The fee newspapers charge for the notices is often significantly less than the price charged to other advertisers for identical space in the paper. Public notices serve as a type of low-cost accountability insurance.

When a newspaper publishes a public notice, in effect the newspaper is acting in the role of a third-party verifier or auditor of the notice. The newspaper is responsible for typesetting and preparing the notice for print and is responsible for signing a sworn affidavit of publication for every public notice published. Once the legal notice has been published in print, it’s permanent.

A recent study conducted on statewide newspaper readership concluded 85 percent of Iowans read their local newspaper. The same study found 86 percent of Iowans believe public notices should appear in the local newspaper, an increase from 71 percent in the previous study.

Proponents of the measure have suggested it is overly cumbersome for commercial businesses with several locations to monitor many newspapers to look for the equalization notice. However, the newspapers of Iowa have spent thousands of dollars a year to make the public notices of every newspaper available online in a searchable format.

By visiting www.iowanotices.org, and typing the search word "equalization," one can find all the notices published in Iowa within seconds.

Beyond notifying affected taxpayers, the public has a right to know that an equalization of property tax assessments is necessary, as it reflects directly on the competency of its local government. Eliminating the newspaper publication requirement would impair the public's ability to have that information.