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Property Tax Concerns Heard By Supervisors

By Staff | Aug 26, 2010

Complaints about increases in property taxes drew a sympathetic ear from the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors Tuesday during its weekly session. However, the end result of the conversation was that there was no solution – at least not right away.

Robert Jacobson, who lives at Lost Island Lake, appeared before the board members to express his frustration with his latest property tax assessment on his lake home.

“I’m disappointed that I have to be here,” Jacobson began. “I was always happy I could pay my local property taxes, but now this is getting out of hand.”

Jacobson continued, “I purchased a lot on Lost Island in 1987 for $35,000 and built a new home on it in 1989 for $120,000. I built an out building and we’ve added a deck and have spent $170,000 all told. But, according to my taxes, the assessed value is $340,000.”

Jacobson went on to relate his tax bills for the last several years, starting with a tax bill of $2,162 in 2006 to a tax statement of $4,768 for the current year, not including a sanitary sewer assessment.

“It just appears to me that I’m being gouged for having 110 feet of shorefront,” Jacobson said.

“We understand your feelings, but there is nothing we as a board can do about the assessment,” Board Chair Jerry Hofstad replied. “The State of Iowa tells us what rates to assess and tax at. If you look at your tax statement, you’ll see this board has lowered our mill rate each of the last three years. The biggest share of the local taxes goes to our schools – they get 44 percent, and the county gets 32 percent.”

“You people are the grassroots of government,” Jacobson replied. “I haven’t heard a word out of you to speak out against this. You have to speak up – this is where it has to start.”

“The state tells Lois Naig (Palo Alto County Assessor) to raise her assessment rates based on average sales, there’s nothing we can do or say about that,” Supervisor Ed Noonan pointed out. “These latest assessments and taxes are just as much a surprise to all of us.”

“But you’ve never spoken out – You’ve never objected to them.” Jacobson insisted. “I know there are no real answers to this, but we have to be aware of what’s going on.”

Assessor Lois Naig, who sat in on the session, pointed out that after the latest assessments, the Palo Alto County Board of Review lowered the assessments on lakefront property at Lost Island Lake from $2,500 per foot down to $2,300 per foot, but similar property across the county line in Clay County was assessed at $2,500 per foot.

“Valuations went up in 2009, and now we’re seeing that in the tax statements,” Naig said.

“The only way any of this can change is through people casting votes for the lawmakers in the statehouse,” observed Hofstad.

In other business, the board met with Keith Bare, a landowner in Section eight of Emmetsburg Township, regarding drainage concerns with the main line of Drainage District Seven. Rick Hopper, an engineer with Jacobson Westergard and Associates of Estherville sat in on the session, as he is working on a study of Branch Three of the same district. After a brief discussion, Hopper agreed to perform field investigations on the main in conjunction with his Branch Three study and report back to the supervisors.

Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz informed the board that Palo Alto County would be applying for public assistance funding through the federal disaster declaration for heavy rains earlier this summer through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Right now, it appears we are eligible for $30,000 for gravel replacement on roads where water washed away gravel,” Fantz reported, “And we have three grading projects that appear to be eligible for about $30,000 to correct drainage so they would not flood out. We’re also looking at a bridge in need of some repairs due to high water as well.”