Oct 2, 2023 - News

DART routes risk cuts without property tax increases

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

DART could face the most significant route reductions in its history if Des Moines metro communities who help fund it don't temporarily increase property taxes to help resolve its deficit.

Why it matters: DART is the metro's only public transit system.

  • 61% of users don't own a car and 43% earn under $20,000 a year, according to a recent survey from the agency. The majority of riders use the buses to get to work, DART director Amanda Wanke told commissioners during a public meeting last week.

Flashback: The agency is primarily funded through property tax levies, but rates have not kept up with operating expenses and the metro's growing population, organizers shared during the meeting.

  • Pandemic relief funds have helped the organization in recent years, but that will end in fiscal year 2025 — resulting in the need to find funding now.

State of play: To help fund DART, Wanke says cities and Polk County will have to temporarily increase property taxes.

  • Des Moines, which has the most routes, would also have to provide additional funds because it already has the highest amount of property taxes allowed under state law.
  • The City Council will consider increasing franchise fee rates, which would make utility bills higher.

By the numbers: Fully funding DART would provide the agency with an additional $3 million in property taxes that would help keep its current services for five years.

  • Metro homeowners in a $200K house would pay an additional $1.16-$7.99 in FY 25-26, depending on the city they live in.
  • If Des Moines increases its franchise fees from 5% to 6.5%, a home or business with a $200 electric bill would experience a $5 monthly increase.

Zoom in: If metro communities decide not to provide any additional funding, property taxes for homes valued at $200K would decrease $10-$15 annually.

  • Bus services would be reduced by about 50% and serve 3,000 fewer riders on weekdays. Popular routes that come every 20 minutes or less would elongate to 30-50 minutes.
  • Many routes that go to the suburbs would be discontinued, as well as paratransit routes for people with disabilities (though federally required paratransit routes would stay in place).

Of note: Waukee is not a DART member.

What's next: The DART commission, made up of representatives from each city and Polk County, will decide how much funding they want to provide by early next year.

  • Meanwhile, DART plans on lobbying the Iowa Legislature to change state laws so that Iowa's public transit systems don't rely as heavily on property taxes for funding, Wanke says.
Left: A map showing the routes services if DART is fully funded. Right: Routes that would be reduced or cut if DART doesn't receive any additional funds.
A map showing the routes services if DART is fully funded. Right: Routes that would be reduced or cut if DART doesn't receive any additional funds. Maps: Courtesy of DART

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