“His argument is once again that taxes in Johnson County are the highest in Iowa. No. Not even close. The Johnson County Rural levy ranks 47 out of Iowa’s 99 counties,” Sullivan wrote. “He points out that Johnson County property owners, on average, pay the highest dollar amount in taxes. That is easy to explain. Their property is worth more.”
County governments collect property taxes based on “real property,” such as land, buildings, structures, utilities and improvements. This money goes to cities, counties, school districts, hospitals and other entities to provide services to residents. They set their tax rates according to budget needs not covered by other revenue.
Johnson County’s total countywide tax rate for fiscal 2020, which ends June 30, is $6.49 per $1,000 in taxable assessed value, which was 45th highest among Iowa’s 99 counties, according to data from the Iowa Department of Revenue.
This means 44 counties have a higher rate than Johnson County, and 54 counties have a lower rate.
Countywide tax rates in Iowa range from a low of $2.90 in Dickinson County to $13.63 in Decatur County. Linn County’s countywide rate this year is $5.83, or 63rd in the state.
When looking at rural Johnson County residents, the rural rate plus countywide rate for fiscal 2020 is $10.18 per $1,000 in taxable value, which ranks 36th highest among Iowa counties.
Residents in unincorporated areas pay more to the county for things like secondary roads and rural law enforcement. Urban residents pay a higher consolidated levy that includes a city tax that rural residents don’t pay, explained Lucas Beenken, public policy specialist for the Iowa State Association of Counties.
“They are certainly in the middle,” Beenken said about Johnson County. Growing counties, including Johnson and Linn, have been able to avoid large tax rate increases because of development and higher valuations, Beenken said.
“Johnson County is in a good position to work off of growth,” he said.
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Iowa’s counties together levied $5.9 billion in property taxes in fiscal 2019, the association reported. Of that, $316.2 million was assessed by Johnson County and $427 million by Linn County. There’s not a good way to figure out the average amount of property taxes paid by individuals in a county, Beenken said.
But Sullivan is right that if one Johnson County resident is paying more than another who is similarly situated (both live in unincorporated areas, for example) then the first person’s property is worth more.
“Everyone gets the same levy rate so it’s based on the valuation of the property,” Beenken said.
Sullivan, who has been a Johnson County supervisor since 2004, said in his Nov. 27 blog he was trying to correct misinformation about rural property taxes.
He said Johnson County’s rural levy is 47th highest of 99 counties. That’s not quite right. The countywide tax rate for fiscal 2020 is 45th highest, but when you factor in the additional rural levy, Johnson County goes to 36th highest. The county is far from having the highest rural property tax rates, but it just escapes being in the top one-third of Iowa counties.
Though Sullivan is off about Johnson County’s position among Iowa counties, he is more right than wrong about the rate. We give him a B.
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This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan of The Gazette.