County residents need to brace for assessment hikes


Lee Rood is an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register and did a piece this week on expected increases in property assessments coming next year.

The piece indicated that Polk County could see record increases in assessments - and record highs. Now that's Polk County and neighboring Dallas County will probably see something similar.

As a matter of simple math, Lee County will probably see increases as well, if the rest of the state does. There is a state-equalization process that kind of handcuffs county assessors where the state can step in if they feel assessments are too low.

The idea of increased property taxes isn't something that anyone welcomes. And here comes the 'but'...

I've been covering local government budget processes for more than six years now. Most of you don't read it. Admit it, you don't, but that's important news.

But rarely do you see these elected officials go willy-nilly with increases. That's bad business, and bad at the ballot box.

There are many serious things to consider, such as seniors on fixed incomes, low income families, and there are things on the books to allow some relief there, but an increase is an increase.

The local entites who get shares of the property tax pie, which is about 40% to public schools, 30% to cities, and 20% to counties on average, can do everything they can to keep their mil levies in check, but at the end of the day if your evaluation go up, your bill's going to go up even when they say they didn't increase their levy.

Many property owners may contest their 2023 assessed values that will be paid in 2024 and 2025 and there is a path to do that, but an independent review will ultimately have the final say. Most people will just get angry, but pay the bill.

But it may be time for that correction. Just in simple economic terms, costs for everything are on the rise. And that means costs of providing government services are also on the rise.

And now Keokuk has no local hospital or emergency room. And the county has had to pick up the costs, which are expected to now be more than $1 million before July 1.

The county is scrambling to find that money, but supervisors are committed to making sure Keokuk residents have the most efficient emergency transport service possible.

But that will come with a cost. They can put a measure on a ballot in the spring to create an essential services levy, but there are questions still about how that funding can be allocated with a maximum levy of 75 cents/$1,000 of assessed valuation.

Officials don't think that will cover the increased costs and where the money can be used is still being investigated.

Costs of building roads and repairing streets is on the rise. Payroll for public employees is increasing and revenues need to keep pace with costs.

The point is that these governmental agencies may not be able to reduce their mil levies to keep property tax bills stable and people should expect increases in their bills and prepare for them.

Lee County Supervisor Chairman Matt Pflug was very vocal about the condition of the county's finances and that was before Blessing announced the closure of the Keokuk hospital and ER.

The county will likely have to increase its levy ask to account for some of the added, and unanticipated, costs of providing medical services, payroll, and IT upgrades. There's no guarantees the rates will go up or down and the end result is yet to be known.

But if Polk, and Dallas, and other urban counties in the state are anticipating record assessment increases, Lee County residents should be prepared for the same.

Rood's report focuses on how voters in those areas approved the 1-cent local sales tax option because half of the money was supposed to go to property tax relief, and they aren't seeing it.

That's the direct impact of the rising assessed valuations. This may be a storm brewing for rural Iowa as well and residents need to be paying attention.

They may show that anger in the elections that follow - But that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Pen City Current, editorial, opinion, taxes, assessments, Lee County, Iowa, Chuck Vandenberg, Beside the Point, hikes, revenues, home owners,


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