Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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June 9, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/11/13

In this edition:

*RIP Gail Peterson
*Pride Festival
*North Liberty Fun Days
*Property Tax Rates
*Property Tax Rates, Part Two
*More County Financial Info
*Did You Know?

*RIP Gail Peterson
         Melissa lost her oldest sister this past week, completely unexpectedly and far too young.

         Gail Peterson of Keller, Texas is survived by her husband Don and two adult children. Gail was kind, caring, funny, and deeply religious.

Meanwhile – the rest of us need to pick up the phone and call our siblings. You simply never know when this type of thing is going to happen next.

*Pride Festival
         The IC Pride Festival is celebrated this week with several area events. There is a picnic Friday night, a parade and festival Saturday, and several performances throughout the week.

         I am so proud to live in a county that is willing to celebrate its LGBTQ residents! This is truly one of the things that makes Johnson County a great place to live!

For more info on all the events, see:

*North Liberty Fun Days
         The community of North Liberty is celebrating Fun Days this weekend with several cool events!

         As it states on the Fun Days Facebook page: “North Liberty Fun Days is one of the longest standing local celebrations in the state of Iowa. With events ranging from carnival rides and musical performances to the car show, North Liberty Fun Days has something for everyone.”

         North Liberty is a fast-growing town that has really accomplished some great things! The people of North Liberty have many reasons to be proud, and much to celebrate!

         Hope to see you in North Liberty this weekend!

*Property Tax Rates
         Lots of people like to lie about property tax rates in Johnson County, claiming, “They are some of the highest in the country!”

         Bullcrap! Here are the facts – newly updated with current fiscal year data - 39 Iowa Counties have higher property tax rates than Johnson County, ranking Johnson 40 out of the 99 counties. (Source: Iowa State Association of Counties.)

         I’m going to run this every week in Salvos, just to be sure you remember it. So when somebody says otherwise, you can set them straight.

*Property Tax Rates, Part Two:
         A few folks have asked me about the previous paragraph, and asked me to explain why the statistics from the Tax Foundation are so meaningless.

I’m pretty wonkish when it comes to taxes. I have found that many misperceptions exist. I’ll try to explain my problems with their statistics here:

1.) The Tax Foundation claims to be offering a comprehensive look at taxes, but they are actually only discussing property taxes. Sales, income, and other taxes matter as much if not more. Some jurisdictions are praised by the Tax Foundation that have sales tax rates of over 10%! That has a tremendous disparate impact on the poorest families! Yet those jurisdictions are praised by the Tax Foundation.

2.) The Tax Foundation lumps all property taxing entities together. In other words, Johnson County could have the lowest property tax rate in the nation, but if the school districts and cities (which receive about 83% of all property taxes) have high rates, the overall property taxes paid in the county will be high. Johnson County actually ranks #44 out of Iowa’s 99 counties in property tax rates.

3.) Similarly, they do not split out jurisdictions. Let’s use Lone Tree as a hypothetical example. You could live in Lone Tree, and have extremely low property taxes. Your county, city, and school rates could all be among the lowest in the nation. But if larger entities (such as IC and the ICCSD) are high, the whole County looks high. (Obviously, the reverse could be true also.) So the measurement can be extremely inaccurate.

4.) The Tax Foundation uses “median real estate taxes paid”. Another thing that measure fails to take into account is whether or not it is a single-family home. Real estate taxes will be higher on an apartment building than a single-family home. The owner will also earn more income from an apartment building than from a single-family home.

5.) Finally, the Tax Foundation ignores the reality of valuations. The property taxes you pay are made up of the valuation times the rate. (There can also be credits and rollbacks, etc.) But the fundamental formula is valuation times rate.

The Tax Foundation seems to love Pocahontas County, so let’s compare valuations there to valuations in Johnson County.

First, a bit of demographic background: Pocahontas County has 7,150 residents, down 2.2% from the 2010 census number of 7,310. That is the fastest drop in Iowa in those two years. It has lost fully half its population since 1960.

Johnson County has 136,317 residents, up 4.2% from the 2010 census number of 130,882. That is the fastest growth in Iowa in those two years. Population has nearly tripled since 1960.

8% of the housing units in Pocahontas County are multi-family. In Johnson County, the number is 36%. The median household income in Pocahontas County is $42,545. In Johnson County, it is $54,000.

So here is the most important fact: the median home valuation in Pocahontas County is $55,700. In Johnson County, it is $180,200.

In other words, a house that costs you $55,700 in Pocahontas County will run you $180,200 in Johnson County. That is a factor of 3.25!

So, let’s say tax rates are the same in both counties. You will pay 3.25 TIMES the total taxes here. But that is hardly a bad thing! Only a fool would trade the rising valuations of Johnson County for the falling valuations in Pocahontas County!

None of this is intended to serve as a knock on Pocahontas County. I have no doubt it is full of hardworking people who want nothing but the best for their citizenry. I wish them nothing but good things. I simply believe people need to look at the whole picture.

Believe it or not, there are even more issues with the Tax Foundation numbers, but there are five with which you can start. Meanwhile, for accurate information on your COUNTY taxes, see the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) website at:

*More County Financial Info
         Did you know that taxpayers in Johnson County pay the 70th highest property taxes per capita in the State? Did you know that in per capita County spending, we rank number 87? Did you know Johnson County’s long-term debt ratio is zero?

         There are many misperceptions out there regarding the financial status of Johnson County. A quick look at the Iowa State Association of Counties website will open your eyes to the truth!

         I urge everyone to visit this helpful chart:

         There are lots of people out there misrepresenting our financial status. They could not be more wrong! Compared to any and every one of our peers, Johnson County has done a magnificent job with your tax dollars over the past several years. I am extremely proud of the job we have done with the budget here in Johnson County. I think you should be, too!

*DID YOU KNOW?  Pocahontas County is 98% white, with Native American the largest ethnic group. (Source: US Census Bureau.)

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

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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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