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State Appealing Drainage Decision

By Staff | Jun 24, 2008

Palo Alto and Pocahontas County officials are scratching their heads over a move by the State of Iowa late last month to appeal a District Court verdict in a drainage assessment case. The kicker to the appeal is the fact that the state acknowledged the court decision by paying the drainage assessment.

The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors was made aware of this latest twist in the ongoing dispute over Joint Drainage District 77 earlier this month. At issue was a drainage assessment for Joint 77, which encompasses Rush Lake, which was made back in May of 2007. A reclassification of benefited properties was conducted in early 2007. The state, as owners of Rush Lake, filed an appeal in the Pocahontas County District Court on June 29, 2007, objecting to the classification and assessment placed on the lake, at 2.65 times higher per acre than the average assessment rate of other property in the joint district.

The joint Palo Alto and Pocahontas Boards of Supervisors, as trustees of the drainage district, responded to the state with a counter filing on Sept. 10, 2007.

However, in the meantime, the Palo Alto County Treasurer’s Office received a State of Iowa warrant for $15,051,77 for drainage taxes for Joint DD 77 on March 24 of this year. Officials decided to hold the warrant, pending the outcome of the appeal of the case.

The legal process continued and in a decision issued on April 23, 2008, the Honorable Judge William C. Ostlund ruled, “it is clearly evident that a benefit was derived by the Rush Lake Property the result of drainage improvements.”

Judge Ostlund continued, “The Court finds that the valuation procedure was detailed, sophisticated, logical and comparably sound. To find otherwise would be arbitrary. Based upon the premise that the drainage assessment is correct unless overcome by significant evidence, the Court finds that the State’s appeal is denied and the classification and assessment stand.”

Following the filing of the decision, the county was advised by its legal counsel, Jim Hudson of Pocahontas, to go ahead and cash the warrant from March and to consider the case closed.

Hudson noted he had heard nothing from the state Attorney General’s office or anyone else at the state level saying that they were dropping their appeal when the assessment was paid. “However, I am sure having paid the assessment in full that they are not going to take an appeal from this ruling.”

But it appears that such is not the case. After the original assistant Attorney General who appealed the assessment retired when the decision was handed down, a new assistant Attorney General has decided to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, a move that puzzles both county boards.

“It just seems like a waste of time and effort, after the state has already paid the assessment,” noted Palo Alto County Auditor Gary Leonard. “But, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. It would just be a waste of taxpayer money to fight this again.”