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Valuation and Taxes – Drainage Assessments

Iowa Drainage Law Manual

  • What is a drainage district?
    • Drainage districts have been established for the drainage of surface waters from agricultural and other lands for the protection of said lands from overflow when said protection is a public benefit or is conducive to public health, convenience, and welfare (Section 468.2, State Code of Iowa).
  • Who sets up drainage districts?
    • Drainage districts are established by the Drainage District Trustees at the request of the land owners within the proposed district (Section 468.6-468.8). Petitions and actions to establish are kept in the minute books in the county auditor’s office.
  • What are drainage assessments for?
    • Assessments are made as necessary to pay for engineering costs, improvements, and repairs within a given drainage district.
  • How is my drainage assessment determined?
    • Assessment or classification of land in a drainage district is based on the benefit that land is seen to receive from being in the district. The original percent of benefit of any parcel of land within a district was set when that district was established and is the basis for all assessments unless the district is reclassified by the trustees (Section 468.49).
  • Who are the Drainage District Trustees?
    • Generally, under the Code of Iowa, Chapter 468, the County Board of Supervisors act as Drainage District Trustees in all district matters. However, the land owners of a particular district may, if they wish, elect their own trustees and maintain the district themselves.
  • Can the Drainage District Trustees make repairs without my consent?
    • YES. The trustees are required by the Code of Iowa (Section 468.126) to maintain all drainage districts at their original capacity. Notice of repairs is only required when the cost will exceed $15,000 or 75% of the original assessed benefit of the district, whichever is greater.
  • Can I get out of the drainage district?
  • Where are the drainage district records kept?
    • All drainage district records are kept in the County Auditor’s Office.
  • Where can I complain about drainage problems?
    • For repairs, contact the Auditor to find out who performs this task in your county (it varies from county to county). Other complaints, problems, or questions can be directed to the drainage clerk in the Auditor’s Office or to the drainage district trustees.
  • Who pays for drainage district repairs?
    • Property owners within a district pay for all its maintenance and repairs. The County Engineer’s Office or an independent contractor hired by the trustees will do the work and bill the cost to the district. Members of the district pay based on the proportion of the original percent of benefit of their property to the original assessed benefit of the entire district.
  • Why are the drainage assessments not proportional to property valuation?
    • Assessments are computed as a percentage of the original assessment which is based on the benefit that a property is seen to receive by being inside the district (see next question).
  • Why is my assessment $25.00 when my neighbor’s is only $7.00?
    • Assessments are based on the benefit a particular property receives from the district. You can consult district maps (available through the drainage clerk) to determine your property’s location within the drainage district in relation to the district tiles.
  • I’ve lived here for years and never gotten a drainage bill. Why now?
    • Drainage districts are not levied on a regular basis. When a district is levied the trustees set the percentage such that a minimal surplus remains after all bills are paid. The district will not be levied again until its funds are depleted. Depending on the amount of work required in the district, some districts are levied every two years while a few have gone 50 years or more without a levy. The norm is every 4-5 years. To find out when your district was last levied, contact the drainage clerk.
  • I just purchased this property and got a drainage bill. The previous owner paid me for property taxes due. Should they pay for this as well?
    • Please contact your realtor or attorney to determine the answer.
  • What happens if I don’t pay my assessment?
    • Delinquent drainage assessments become a lien on the property (Section 468.51). The property can then be sold for back taxes/assessments just as it can be sold for non-payment of property taxes (Section 468.158-.162).

      To protest an assessment, contact the Drainage District Trustees (Board of Supervisors).