Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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July 22, 2009

Sullivan’s Salvos 7/28/09

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful wife, Dr. Melissa Fath. I am a very, very, very lucky man!

You are getting this edition of Salvos a few days early. Expect it to be back on the regular schedule next week.

This weekend marks the annual Fun Days celebration in Swisher. If you have never visited Swisher, you are missing out on a tightly knit, fun-loving community. I urge you to check it out.

The Johnson County Assessor has been sending out a great newsletter lately. I have taken the liberty of poaching the following article from his most recent edition. I took a few liberties in terms of editing for length. I hope this article will help you will gain some insight into the assessment process:

Johnson County has an excellent track record for getting the numbers right: No one in our office can recall a time when the Iowa Department of Revenue gave us a residential equalization order—which is a mandate to adjust assessments—and we’re proud to be the No. 1 county in Iowa in terms of assessment uniformity. But property owners don’t always agree with our decisions. When that’s the case, there is an appeal process.

The first step is for a property owner to protest to the Johnson County Board of Review, a three-member committee that convenes each spring specifically to hear such appeals. This board reviews our assessment, considers information from the property owner and then can do one of three things: 1) leave the assessment as is, 2) raise it (which surprises owners who were seeking to lower their assessment, but this does sometimes happen) or, 3) lower it. If the property owner still is not satisfied, the next step involves protesting to a state-wide Property Assessment Appeal Board, and/or appealing to District Court.

Some people assume our office would have a very adversarial relationship with the Board of Review. After all, the Board can be seen as second guessing our work and sometimes may rule against us. But nothing could be further from the truth. Our focus isn’t on who is right or wrong with assessments, but rather on making sure that property is valued correctly.

When there are differences of opinion, it’s often simply because of discrepancies in the information about a property. For example, perhaps we don’t have the correct square footage or age or other pertinent details on file about a structure. Or maybe an owner didn’t understand the impact certain property improvements would have on the property value or failed to communicate changes to our office. A Board of Review hearing ultimately helps ensure that valuations are fair and equitable for all concerned.

In the most recent revaluation cycle this past spring, 305 protests were filed with the Board of Review. The board made adjustments (raised or lowered the assessment) in 225 cases; 80 were denied (left as is).

The number of commercial property protests increased compared to previous years. One trend we’ve seen is that a number of large national companies and chain/franchise retailers automatically protest their assessment even when they might not have a sound basis for doing so. The philosophy appears to be to protest everything in the hopes that some adjustment will occur. It’s akin to throwing a fish line with bare hooks into a lake; odds are something will eventually swim by and snag.

There are a number of companies that file protests on behalf of other property owners for a contingency fee. Since there is no risk or cost to the property owner for filing, they do so. However, our staff must spend considerable time preparing for and attending these hearings, so it’s a drain on our resources. The Board of Review can and does subpoena information to help make a decision; some property owners drop their appeal when this happens. For instance, a commercial property owner might protest on the grounds that business is terrible, but withdraw the protest when asked to show financial statements and other supporting documentation.

All in all, the Board of Review plays a very important role in the assessment process. Its work almost always results in a positive exchange of information and education.

DID YOU KNOW? The median value of Johnson County’s owner-occupied housing units, circa 2000 = $131,500. For the rest of Iowa? $82,500. (Source: US Census Bureau.)

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website- .

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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