Des Moines resident Mel Pins is an infrastructure kind of guy who would like to see streets get paved when they need it — pothole repairs last about as long as it takes to patch the hole, he says — and storm sewers flow free and easy and clear of neighborhood basements.

Look no farther than revenues is the answer Pins says he often hears from city officials. His ear is closer than most. Pins also is president of the Somerset Neighborhood Association and he chairs the city’s zoning board of adjustment.

On March 6, 2018, county voters took the revenue issue out the hands of the city of Des Moines when they rejected by 227 votes an issue that would have added 1 cent to the state’s 6-cents-on-the-dollar sales tax. It should be noted here that an estimated 97 percent of the state’s residents pay that 7 cents on their purchases, just not in Polk County.

All of that could change March 5, when voters in Des Moines, Alleman, Altoona, Pleasant Hill, West Des Moines and Windsor Heights will vote on the only issue on the ballot: Public Measure A, which would raise the sales tax to 7 cents on the dollar from 6 cents.

That city-by-city vote arrived courtesy of an 11th-hour decision by the Iowa General Assembly last year to "decouple" cities with contiguous borders from voting on the local option sales tax. The Legislature acted after the Polk County vote failed.

Pins is part of a team that is advocating for passage of the tax. He joined Brad Anderson, state director of AARP Iowa, and Gretchen Tegeler, president of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa, to make a pitch about the benefits of the tax to the Business Record.

Anderson said this is the first time in its history that AARP Iowa has come out in support of a ballot issue. In this case, it is a question of safety — safe streets, welcoming parks, speedier response times by first responders — that turned the switch.

Tegeler, possibly Greater Des Moines’ leading and most respected advocate of responsible government spending — she does the research to bolster the organization’s positions — pointed out that in Des Moines passage of the local option sales tax would take a big bite, nearly 20 percent, out of the city’s revenue burden.

"All the studies show that over-reliance on property taxes is an impediment to economic growth," Tegeler said. Des Moines has the highest property tax rate in the metro. If the sales tax measure is approved, city leaders will cut the property tax levy by 60 cents per $1,000. That includes erasing the 20-cent increase approved last year after the local option sales tax failed the countywide vote.

Des Moines struggles on the revenue side for several reasons. A study last year by a Virginia consultant found that property values lag most other Greater Des Moines communities. As the central city, its services are used by many people who don’t pay for them. That means the city struggles to repair roads and bridges and provide other services its residents expect.

Studies by the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa and Iowa State University have shown that 30 percent of revenues from the sales tax increase — $37 million for Des Moines alone — will be paid by folks who live outside of Polk County.

In addition, the tax will not be levied on essential items. Groceries, utilities, automobile fuel, vehicle purchases and prescription drugs are all exempted, for example. The tax is essentially on discretionary spending. The local option sales tax would not be added to the hotel/motel tax.

When lawmakers dropped the requirement that cities with common borders vote as a block, it also required that 50 percent of the additional revenues go toward property tax relief.

Here is a rundown on how most of the communities plan to use the extra revenue if the sales tax is approved:

In Altoona, where voters turned down the local option sales tax in last year’s vote, city officials estimate that the owner of a $175,000 home will save $87.67 a year in property taxes, while the owner of a $300,000 home will save $141.73. Sales tax revenues will provide funding for road improvements, a new civic service center and training and facilities for the police department. It is estimated that 57 percent of retail spending in Altoona comes from nonresidents.

In Pleasant Hill, where voters also turned down the tax in March 2018, plans are to use 85 percent of an estimated $1.4 million in additional revenues for property tax relief, with the balance going toward projects that would stabilize property taxes. Pleasant Hill's property tax rate has held steady for 19 years at $11.65 per $1,000 of a home's assessed value. The rate would need to increase to approximately $13.54 per $1,000 to fund necessary public safety improvements if the tax fails.

West Des Moines could cut 79 cents from the current levy of $11.79 per $1,000 of taxable valuation. After residents on the Dallas County side of West Des Moines approved a local option sales tax in 2016, the city lowered the property tax rate to $11.79 from $12. The city could receive an estimated $7 million from the local option sales tax.

In Windsor Heights, the city could slash its levy by 69 cents beginning with the fiscal 2021 budget year, based on estimated additional revenue of $850,000.

Des Moines could receive an estimated $37 million in extra sales tax revenue. If the local option sales tax is approved, city leaders will cut the property tax levy by 60 cents per $1,000. If the tax fails, the city plans to add 30 cents per $1,000 to its property tax levy and City Manager Scott Sanders has said property taxes could go up another $1.50 over several years.

All of the cities plan a range of public safety and infrastructure improvements with the remaining revenues. If approved, the tax would be effective July 1.