Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ Topics

Budgets/Audits

Q.

Where do my taxes go?

A.

After the budget process, the completed budgets are given to the Auditor to figure your taxes. Your taxes are then apportioned by the county treasurer to Levy Authorities such as the school district, city or township, and county in which your real estate parcel is located. If your property is in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Area, most of your taxes are probably apportioned to a TIF Authority, such as a city. You can see the distribution of your taxes on your tax bill.

Q.

What is a Levy Authority?

A.

A Levy Authority is a governmental entity with statutory authority to levy property taxes. These entities include counties, cities, school districts, townships, community colleges, local assessors, and others. Levies are set by each governmental entity during the budget process.

Elections/Voter Information

Q.

How do I change my political party?

A.

Complete a new Voter Registration Form and submit it to your County Auditor.

Q.

Why do I have to declare a political party in order to vote in a Primary Election?

A.

Primary Elections are held in order to narrow the field of candidates within the political party prior to the General Election. You have to choose which party’s ballot you want. You can only vote one ballot.

Q.

Do I have to declare a political party in order to vote in a General Election?

A.

No. All candidates that were successful in the Primary or nominated by their parties are included on the General Election ballot. Also included are candidates for offices that are non-partisan. You can vote for candidates of any party, no matter what party you selected when you registered.

Q.

Was I selected for jury duty because I am registered to vote?

A.

Jurors are randomly drawn by a computer from current voter registration lists and motor vehicle operators lists.

Q.

Where do I get information on District Court Judges running for retention?

A.

Information on judges can be obtained from the State of Iowa Judicial Website.

Real Estate

Q.

What are the real estate responsibilities of the County Auditor?

A.

While practices vary between Counties, in general, the County Auditor has the following statutory responsibilities:

  • Apply Equalization Rates by property class and Assessor jurisdiction to calculate equalized 100% Actual Values in odd-numbered years
  • Apply annual Rollback Rates by property class to calculate Taxable Values
  • Enter state-certified values for Utilities and Railroads for taxation
  • Administer Tax Districts, TIF Tax Districts, and SSMID Districts such that taxpayers pay the correct amounts and governmental authorities receive the correct amounts
  • Calculate and certify base value and increment value in TIF Tax Districts
  • Certify Taxable Values to Cities, Schools, Townships, and other Governmental bodies for use in preparing annual budgets
  • Review and certify the budgets of Cities, Schools, Townships, and other Governmental bodies for compliance with tax rate limits
  • Certify annual Consolidated Tax Levy Rates by Tax District
  • Calculate and certify taxes to the County Treasurer for collection
  • Calculate and certify drainage assessments to the County Treasurer for collection
  • Maintain the official County plat books and transfer records and enter ownership name changes for taxation and assessment
  • Certify amounts Military Exemption, Homestead Credit, Ag Land Credit, and Family Farm Credit to the State
Q.

How do I get my deceased Joint Tenants name off my property?

A.

See your local attorney to file an affidavit of Surviving Joint Tenant. Form 339.

Q.

I have gotten married/remarried. How can I change my last name of the property records?

A.

See your local Attorney to prepare a Quit Claim Deed for you. Be sure to file it in the Recorder’s office.

Q.

I am divorced. How can I get my ex-spouse’s name off my property?

A.

A change of title or some kind of deed needs to be prepared and filed in the Recorder’s office. This is usually taken care of during the divorce proceedings.

Q.

How do I change the mailing address of a tax statement?

A.

Contact your local Auditor, Treasurer or Assessor. You can also fill out a change of address form and mail it to one of the above offices.

Q.

How do I remove a deceased Life Estate Holder?

A.

See your local Attorney to file an Affidavit of Death Terminating Life Estate. Form 179.

Q.

What is a legal description?

A.

A legal description is a description of real estate that is used in legal documents such as abstracts, deeds, mortgages, etc. For example: “Lot One (1) in Frank’s Subdivision, Mason City, Iowa”.

Q.

What is an administrative real estate description?

A.

An administrative real estate description is a description of real estate used by county offices for real estate assessment and taxation administrative purposes. Typically, it will be similar to a legal description but may contain abbreviations or other summaries. For example: “L 1 Frank’s Sub”.

Q.

What is a property class?

A.

Real estate parcels are annually assigned a property class by the local assessor or the Iowa Department of Revenue. Property classes include Agricultural, Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Railroad, Utility, and Gas & Electric Utility.

Q.

Does the local Assessor set the value for all real estate property?

A.

No. Property owned by Railroads and Utility companies is valued by the Iowa Department of Revenue and certified for taxation to the County Auditor.

Q.

What does it mean that 100% Actual Value is “equalized”?

A.

The Iowa Department of Revenue imposes equalization orders in odd-numbered years against each property class for each local Assessor. Sometimes called “the Assessor’s report card”, the equalization order is used to increase or decrease 100% Actual Values when those values are not sufficiently accurate.

Q.

What is a Homestead Credit?

A.

The Homestead Credit is a tax credit funded by the State of Iowa for qualifying homeowners and is generally based on the first $4,850 of Net Taxable Value. In the case of a Disabled Veteran Tax Credit, the value of the Homestead Credit is increased to the entire amount of the Taxable Value of the property.

Q.

A property just sold; can you tell me the new owner and what they paid for it?

A.

Contact your local Recorder’s office or Assessor’s office and either office can tell you the selling price and or the new owner. Your local Auditor’s office can also inform you of the new owner.

Q.

What is a real estate Military Exemption?

A.

Veterans who served in active duty during certain periods of time and who were honorably discharged are eligible to receive a Military Exemption on their property taxes. Pursuant to Iowa law, the Military Exemption value is determined by the dates the veteran served in active duty. Values for most veterans are $1,852 or $3,704 in the case of a husband and wife who both qualify. The value for World War I veterans is $2,778.

Q.

How do I apply or find out if I qualify for the Homestead Credit or Military Exemption?

A.

Your local Assessor has forms that you need to complete, sign, and file for the Homestead Credit and/or Military Exemption. That office can also tell you the qualifications for each.

Q.

What offices at the county are involved in the assessment and taxation of real estate?

A.

The County Assessor, Auditor, and Treasurer are part of the tax cycle in that, in general, each has various administrative responsibilities for a given assessment year. In addition, the County Recorder records various real estate documents, including subdivision plats, mortgages, surveys, and conveyances such as deeds, etc.

Q.

How can I see a plat map or an aerial photo of my property?

A.

Some counties have their parcel maps and aerial photographs available on the Internet. Find a link to the specific county website that has this information.

Q.

Is “local assessor” the same as county assessor?

A.

Usually, unless your property is in one of the following cities in Iowa that have chosen to have a separate city assessor: Mason City, Ames, Clinton, Dubuque, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and Sioux City.

Q.

What is an “ag dwelling”, and why do I get a separate tax bill for it?

A.

An ag dwelling is a residence that sits on land classified as agricultural, such as a house on a 40-acre tract of farmland. Iowa law requires the value of the house to be taxed as residential property, while the value of the farmland is taxed as agricultural property.

For certain tax administrative purposes, many counties create a separate tax parcel for an ag dwelling. In the case of an ag dwelling within city limits, this allows the county to apply the regular (full) city tax rate to the ag dwelling and the city ag (lower) tax rate to the land.

Valuation & Taxes

Address Changes

Q.

How can I change the address where my tax bill is mailed?

A.

The procedure for changing the mailing addresses for tax bills will vary from county to county. Contact your county auditor or treasurer to determine what you need to do.

Drainage Assessments

Q.

What is a drainage district?

A.

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).

Q.

Who sets up drainage districts?

A.

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.

Q.

What are drainage assessments for?

A.

Assessments are made as necessary to pay for engineering costs, improvements, and repairs within a given drainage district.

Q.

How is my drainage assessment determined?

A.

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).

Q.

Who are the Drainage District Trustees?

A.

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.

Q.

Can the Drainage District Trustees make repairs without my consent?

A.

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 $50,000.

Q.

Can I get out of the drainage district?

A.

No, unless the district is dissolved (Sections 468.250-468.261).

Q.

Where are the drainage district records kept?

A.

All drainage district records are kept in the County Auditor’s Office.

Q.

Where can I complain about drainage problems?

A.

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.

Q.

Who pays for drainage district repairs?

A.

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.

Q.

Why are the drainage assessments not proportional to property valuation?

A.

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).

Q.

Why is my assessment $25.00 when my neighbor’s is only $7.00?

A.

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.

Q.

I’ve lived here for years and never gotten a drainage bill. Why now?

A.

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 to 5 years. To find out when your district was last levied, contact the drainage clerk.

Q.

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?

A.

Please contact your realtor or attorney to determine the answer.

Q.

What happens if I don’t pay my assessment?

A.

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).

Exemptions and Credits

Q.

What is a Homestead Credit?

A.

The Homestead Credit is a tax credit funded by the State of Iowa for qualifying homeowners and is generally based on the first $4,850 of Net Taxable Value. In the case of a Disabled Veteran Tax Credit, the value of the Homestead Credit is increased to the entire amount of the Taxable Value of the property.

Q.

How is the Homestead Credit calculated?

A.

The Homestead Credit is calculated by dividing the homestead credit value by 1,000 and multiplying by the Consolidated Tax Levy Rate. That amount may then be reduced by the county to the same amount at which the State of Iowa has approved funding.

Q.

What is a real estate Military Exemption?

A.

Veterans who served in active duty during certain periods of time and who were honorably discharged are eligible to receive a Military Exemption on their property taxes. Pursuant to Iowa law, the Military Exemption value is determined by the dates the veteran served in active duty. Values for most veterans are $1,852 or $3,704 in the case of a husband and wife who both qualify. The value for World War I veterans is $2,778.

Q.

How is the Military Exemption calculated?

A.

The Military Exemption value is subtracted from the Taxable Value of a property prior to the calculation of taxes. To know how much your tax bill was reduced by the Military Exemption, divide the value by 1,000 and multiply the remainder by the Consolidated Tax Levy Rate.

Q.

How do I apply or find out if I qualify for the Homestead Credit or Military Exemption?

A.

Your local assessor has forms that you need to complete, sign, and file for the Homestead Credit and/or Military Exemption. That office can also tell you the qualifications for each.

Q.

What is the Business Property Tax Credit?

A.

The Business Property Tax Credit is part of the overall 2013 property tax reform bill that was enacted by the Iowa Legislature and signed by Governor Branstad.

Q.

What is the Disabled Veteran's Homestead Tax Credit?

A.

This legislation, from the year 2014, provides 100% exemption of property taxes for 100% disabled service-connected veterans and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) recipients.

Q.

What is the Family Farm Credit?

A.

This credit is available to all farm operators who own and operate farmland, or farmland owned by a family member such as parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew. Cousins do not qualify.

Q.

What is the Ag Land Credit?

A.

Parcels with an Agricultural Class of at least 10 acres in size qualify for the Ag Land Credit. Smaller parcels may qualify if they are contiguous to a qualifying parcel and under the same ownership.

Property Value

Q.

Does the local assessor set the value for all real estate property?

A.

No. Property owned by railroads and utility companies is valued by the Iowa Department of Revenue and certified for taxation to the county auditor.

Q.

What is Taxable Value?

A.

Taxable Value is the value used to calculate taxes and on which the tax askings of the various Levy Authorities are based.

Q.

What does it mean that 100% Actual Value is “equalized”?

A.

The Iowa Department of Revenue imposes equalization orders in odd-numbered years against each property class for each local assessor. Sometimes called “the assessor’s report card”, the equalization order is used to increase or decrease 100% Actual Values when those values are not sufficiently accurate.

Q.

How does the Iowa Department of Revenue know when a local assessor’s 100% Actual Values are not sufficiently accurate?

A.

The Department receives a copy of the Declaration of Value required to be filed with the county recorder when real estate is sold. Actual sales values are then compared to the local assessor’s 100% Actual Values.

SSMID District

Q.

What is a SSMID District?

A.

A “self-supported municipal improvement district” is informally referred to as a SSMID District. Generally, it is an area of contiguous property within a city – often in the downtown area – either zoned for commercial or industrial purposes or a duly designated historic district.

Q.

How does a SSMID District work?

A.

A tax levy is imposed on property within the SSMID District in addition to all other tax levies. The added revenues can be used for improvements to the District, administrative fees, and debt for the cost of improvements.

Q.

Can the property owners within a proposed SSMID District oppose its establishment?

A.

Yes, if 25% of property owners with 25% of the value within the proposed SSMID District file written objections, a unanimous vote of the council is required. If 40% of the property owners with 40% of the value object, establishment of the District is abandoned.

Q.

How does the SSMID tax levy affect other taxpayers and Levy Authorities?

A.

Only property owners within the SSMID District pay the additional tax levy. The District neither positively nor negatively impacts other Levy Authorities.

Q.

How much is the SSMID tax levy rate?

A.

The SSMID tax levy rate is determined as part of the petition and ordinance process. The law sets no minimum or maximum rates.

Q.

Is the tax levy rate the same for all properties within the SSMID District?

A.

Yes, unless the city ordinance creating the SSMID District divides it into two or more zones or if another special Levy Authority overlapped part of the SSMID District.

Q.

How is a SSMID District amended or dissolved?

A.

Procedures for amending a SSMID District are generally similar to those for creating one. A District can be dissolved by a rescission of the ordinance by the city council. However, dissolution would not necessarily eliminate a levy for any outstanding debt for the District.

Q.

What happens when a SSMID District overlaps a TIF Area?

A.

The SSMID District acts as the other regular Levy Authorities in the TIF Area, in that the TIF takes part of the SSMID tax revenues. The amount depends on the proportion of the base and increment values in the TIF Area, as well as the amount of TIF debt.

Q.

Who decides on construction of improvements in the SSMID District?

A.

A petition initiates the process. The signature requirements and approval steps are similar to that of establishing a SSMID District.

Tax Payments

Q.

Where do my taxes go?

A.

Your taxes are apportioned by the county treasurer to Levy Authorities such as the school district, city or township, and county in which your real estate parcel is located. If your property is in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Area, most of your taxes are probably apportioned to a TIF Authority, such as a city. You can see the distribution of your taxes on your tax bill.

Q.

What is a Levy Authority?

A.

A Levy Authority is a governmental entity with statutory authority to levy property taxes. These entities include counties, cities, school districts, townships, community colleges, local assessors, and others.

Q.

Do railroads and utility companies pay real estate taxes?

A.

Yes, except that utilities defined as gas and electric utilities pay excise taxes. Railroad and utility values are included in the tax base for the respective Levy Authorities, and both real estate and excise taxes are paid to those Levy Authorities.

TIF Areas and TIF Taxing Districts

Q.

What is a TIF Area?

A.

A tax increment financing area (TIF Area) is usually created by a city or county for use as an economic development tool. A community college can also create a TIF Area for a new jobs training program.

Q.

What is the difference between a TIF Area and a TIF Tax District?

A.

A TIF Area is defined in the ordinance adopted by the city or county. A TIF Area may need to be broken into multiple TIF Tax Districts because of different Consolidated Tax Levy Rates or due to an amendment to the TIF Area, such as happens in an annexation.

Q.

How is a TIF Area created?

A.

A city or county must adopt an urban renewal plan and then an ordinance for the division of TIF taxes. The process prescribes public notice and public hearing requirements.

Q.

How do taxes in a TIF Area work?

A.

Taxes in a TIF Area are split between the “base” and the “increment” values. Base value is generally described as the existing value before the TIF Area was created. Increment value is generally described as the growth in value after the TIF Area was created.

Q.

What happens to the “base” taxes and the “increment” taxes?

A.

Taxes levied on the base value are distributed by the county treasurer to the Levy Authorities in the same manner as regular (non-TIF) Tax Districts. Taxes levied on the increment value are paid to the TIF Authority.

Q.

Who is the “TIF Authority”?

A.

The TIF Authority is the governmental body that created the TIF Area. Usually a city, it could also be a county, a community college, or a rural improvement zone.

Q.

How much of my taxes go to the city (or county) for debt for the TIF Area?

A.

The amount of increment taxes depends on the relative proportion of base value to increment value in the TIF Area, and also on whether or not the TIF Authority requests all of the available TIF increment taxes in a given year. You can see the distribution of your taxes on your tax bill.

Q.

Do all of the taxes on the increment value go to pay TIF debt?

A.

No. Debt levies for counties, schools, and cities are applied against both base and increment value, as are physical plant and equipment levies for school districts.

Q.

Are my taxes higher because my property is in a TIF Area?

A.

To answer this question, it is useful to assume a situation in which two real estate parcels are exactly the same in the following respects: each has the same valuation, Property Class, tax credits and exemptions, and Consolidated Tax Levy Rate. The only difference between the two is that one is in a TIF Area and the other is not.

The result is that both properties will pay exactly the same amount of taxes. The difference in a TIF Area is not how much you pay in taxes, but who receives the taxes.

Q.

What qualifies to be paid from taxes on the increment value?

A.

TIF tax revenues are used to repay debt incurred for qualifying urban renewal projects within a TIF Area. Projects are for the purposes and activities listed in Code of Iowa Sections 403.6 or 403.12 and should also be included in the city’s urban renewal plan. TIF debt for an urban renewal project can take the form of rebate agreements, internal loans, general obligation bonds, or TIF revenue bonds.

Meet Our Auditors

Fremont County

Dee Owen
Sidney, Iowa

Auditor Information

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