BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Residents checking their 2017 assessed valuations are finding some larger numbers this year.
Fort Madison and all the townships in Lee County took a sizeable hit on valuations of land and property, according to a random sampling of county residential property on www.beaconscheidercorp.com and County Assessor Theresa Murray.
The increase in property taxes that will result from the increased valuations is not good news for local referendum attempts coming down the pipeline.
The Fort Madison School District is trying to pass a referendum in June to build a new elementary school on the current property where the current middle school sits and the Lee County Health Department has a referendum set for May 2, to obtain funds to build a new health department facility on property the county owns just west of the current Lee County Sheriff’s Department and jail facility just off Hwy 61 near Montrose.
Lee County Assessor Theresa Murray said all the county townships saw an increase this year as did the City of Fort Madison.
“All township’s land values went up in 2015 and 2017. Rural residential have really gotten hit the hardest,” she said.
“This is totally and completely based on property sales in those areas,” Murray said Wednesday. “The sales ratio for 2016 was 6% higher than our assessment. We can be subject to an equalization order from the state. They would do that all across Lee County and that’s not fair. Fort Madison sales could be different than Keokuk or Denmark or whoever and we have to look at those sales map areas.”
According to a random sampling of 20 residential properties – agriculture, commercial and industrial lots were left out of the sampling – with five each from different quadrants in a grid defined by Avenue H and 24th Street, the average increase in assessed valuation was $5,141 with the highest random being $12,640 in the northeast quadrant and one having no increase in the northwest quadrant. However, 18 of the 20 showed no other increases in the past four years.
The tax rate for 2015, the most recent number available on Beacon, was $39.20 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The taxable portion of the assessed value is, again based on 2015 Beacon numbers, was 55.6% of the total assessed value. So a home assessed by the county at $100,000 including the land the structure sits on, would be taxed at approximately $55,600.
The home that went up $12,640, with taxable valuation at 55.6% would be subjected to tax on $7,028 and using the 2015 number would pay an additional $275 in taxes. The average figure of $5,141 would result in an increase in property tax of $112. Other credits such as military exemptions and homestead credits can help bring the property tax down.
A random sampling of 20 Keokuk residential properties on 20 different streets on both sides of Main Street showed increases in two properties – one was $12,600 – one decrease by $1,500, and the other 17 had no change.
“A lot of Keokuk didn’t change,” Murray said. “The sales analysis showed Keokuk was fine. We changed a few things here and there.”
Murray said assessed valuations in the county were at about 90% of market value and she feared the Iowa Dept. of Revenue would come in and install a correction, which she said would have hit everyone at close to 10%.
Since it’s real estate sales that determine market value, Murray said she thought it was only fair to assess higher in areas that were selling higher.
Murray said she felt Lee County would have received the equalization order so she said she targeted areas that were selling higher.
“That’s more fair. If you’ve got a better neighborhood or city or township is selling higher that’s where you should increase the assessment,” Murray said.
“It’s entirely sales that drives this. If I hadn’t done this we would have seen a countywide increase. I really don’t know for sure what that would have been. Our ratio was below 90 so at least a 10% increase across the county.”
She said it’s been more than 10 years since the state came in and set a lower equalization order.
According to state law, counties must take a look at assessed values every year. Murray said the state uses a computer program and all the real estate sales for the year are part of that data and the program indicates where assessed values aren’t at 100% market value depending on residential sales data.
She said the increases are also based on square footage, so the bigger homes will see higher increases than smaller homes.
Murray said any residents who has an issue with the assessed value can call the county and ask for an inspection.
“One phone call and we come out and inspect. Now we always tell them there’s no guarantee it will go down and if we find an error it could go up. If we find our data information is incorrect we could make an adjustment,” Murray said. “We do our own analysis like an appraiser would.”
Murray says the county has to be within 10% of market value or the state can make the corrections for the county.
“Every single property that transfers, a deed is recorded and a Declaration of Value. The buyer has to declare what they paid. We get a copy and the Department of Revenue gets the original. When we get the copy, we put the assessment in and what it’s sold for. The Dept. of Revenue analyzes it and we have to be within 10%,” Murray said.
“That being said, this is mass appraising, it’s not a perfect science. We have an open door policy. If you think you could not sell you house for what it’s assessed at, call us and we’ll come out and do an inspection. We had six appointments this afternoon.,” Murray said Wednesday.
She also said the Beacon website has a tool that allows you to put in your address and it will take you to a list of sales of comparable homes so you can get a clearer picture of market values in your area.