Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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February 19, 2011

Sullivan’s Salvos 2/22/11

In this edition:

*Wisconsin Labor Woes
*Property Assessment Appeals Board
*News from IPP
*Bowl For Kids Sake
*Chamber Ag Series
*Did You Know?

*Wisconsin Labor Woes
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and others in the GOP want to divide the middle class. They cleverly pit nonunion households against union members in an effort to cause a rift in the middle class. But I think even mentioning the “haves” and the “have nots” is risky for the GOP.

Union members are not the “haves”. The wealthiest 2% are the haves! The folks in the middle class are scared, and many are hurting. But they aren’t stupid.

Unions are not the problem, and they have never been the problem. The problem is the ultra rich and the politicians who serve them. And the people are beginning to see it. Good luck to my brothers and sisters in Wisconsin!

*Property Assessment Appeals Board
State government is often guilty of “fixing” things that are not broken. One such example is the Property Assessment Appeals Board (PAAB).

A bit of background: local governments (county, city, school) operate primarily on property taxes. In order to know how much each property should be charged, the property must be periodically assessed.

Property taxes are assessed at the local level. Each county must have an Assessor; a few of the larger cities (including Iowa City) also have them.

Here in Johnson County, we are home to the very best Assessor’s Office in the state of Iowa! According to the Iowa Finance Authority, County Assessor Bill Greazel and his staff rank number one in Iowa in terms of the accuracy of their assessments. They finish in the top two every year.

Why does this matter? Because when it comes to taxes, fairness is paramount. People need to be assured that both they and their neighbors are paying their fair shares of taxes. In Johnson County, we can prove that statistically.

When a property owner disagrees with her assessment, she can appeal the assessment to the Board of Review. The Board of Review is a three-member panel of local experts who review the available data, hear both sides of the issue, and set the correct valuation.

Not many cases go to the Board of Review; out of the tens of thousands of properties that get assessed, only a couple dozen go to the Board of Review. If a property owner is not satisfied with the decision of the Board of Review, her final appeal was to District Court.

At least, that WAS the system, until two years ago, when the State of Iowa created a PAAB. The PAAB has been a fiasco for many reasons. Here are a few:

For starters, the PAAB consists of people who sit in Des Moines. They never visit the property, and they see the same info the local experts get to see. Doesn’t it make sense that realtor and banker from Johnson County would know Lone Tree better than a realtor and banker from Des Moines?

Similarly, the system allows the State to “give away” tax revenues that were intended for local governments. This is no big deal to the state, as the revenue was never headed their way in the first place. But it has an impact on local schools, cities, and counties.

Oh, but it gets worse! There is no cost (and therefore no risk) to folks who appeal. The cost of the PAAB is paid through our state taxes. This plays into the hands of the anti-government faction that will appeal no matter what.

The opposite is true for counties, who bear the burden of proof. There are considerable costs to the counties. Assessors need to spend countless hours preparing, as do County Attorney’s offices. Yet there is no reimbursement when they go to the PAAB and win.

This creates a situation where big corporations appeal every assessment. Several large corporations (Best Buy, for example) appeal EVERY assessment as a course of doing business. Many jurisdictions decide to settle rather than fight, so the PAAB in effect transfers tax dollars from local schools to out of state corporations!

The results thus far back this up; it is not the local farmer who appeals to the PAAB and wins – it is the big box. So, when tax revenues decline, who gets asked to pay more? The farmer, of course!

Finally, and most importantly, the previous system was not broken! District Court was the perfect way to decide such disputes – fairer and cheaper for all taxpayers.

I hope our Legislators will heed the advice of Assessor Greazel, and eliminate the PAAB.

*News From IPP
While much of the current discussion in Des Moines is focusing on yet another round of cutting taxes for businesses, research from the Iowa Policy Project shows better options for the state economy.

Check out the following IPP publications for more detail:

1). Whether one focuses only on the corporate income tax, or the whole range of taxes falling on business, Iowa’s state and local taxes are well below average, and have been for some time.

2). Proponents of business tax breaks claim that taxes are a significant factor in the location choices of businesses, and that a state can tax-cut its way to economic growth and generate tax revenue in the process. Several decades of research confirm that such claims are vastly overblown and sometimes completely misleading.

"Business tax breaks turn out to be an expensive and inefficient way to attempt to stimulate a state economy."
— Peter Fisher, in "Corporate Taxes and State Economic Growth"

For more info on this research or other work by IPP, visit:

*Bowl For Kids’ Sake
Big Brothers Big Sisters is once again holding Bowl For Kids Sake! This is the single biggest fundraiser of the year for BBBS, supporting all their good work. The event this year is February 26 & 27 at Colonial Lanes.

Sullivan for Supervisor will once again be fielding a team, and we would LOVE you to sponsor us! You can let me know via E-mail, or visit Big Brothers Big Sisters online at

If you’d rather form your own team, there is still time! Call BBBS at 337-2145 to reserve your spot.

*Chamber Ag Series
Session 2 is February 25, and the topic is RECYCLING: WE AREN'T JUST TALKING TRASH.

Panelists: Jennifer Jordan, City of Iowa City; Andy Ockenfels, City Carton Recycling; Mark Patton, Habitat for Humanity ReStore; and Jennifer Ryan Fencl, Eastern Central Iowa Council of Governments.

For more info on the series, call the Chamber at 337-9637.

*DID YOU KNOW? Any month that starts on a Sunday will have a Friday the 13th in it.

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.

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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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