The Local Budgeting Process

Every year each local taxing authority in the State of Iowa (counties, cities, school districts, etc.) must submit their budgets to their County Auditor. The city and county budgets must be adopted by resolution and taxes certified by March 15th.  The County Auditor computes the levy rate by matching the requested budgets to the available taxable property valuation along with other sources of revenue. To arrive at the coming Fiscal Year budget each taxing authority – during January and February – has been having meetings to discuss how much money they will request for the coming fiscal year.

Very few taxpayers attend these meetings where tax revenue and spending are being discussed. Maybe the lack of interest is due to the perceived dull nature of the discussions or the feeling that there is little an individual can do to affect the outcome. Of course, another factor is that summer residents have escaped to warmer climates and are not here to attend. Hence one of the important roles of the Taxpayer Association comes into play.

The budgeting process begins with an estimate of how much will be spent in the current fiscal year for each budget category. Then using current spending as a base line a forecast of spending for the coming fiscal year is made. For most entities the cost of salaries and health care benefits drives their budgets. Computerization is increasing efficiency, but brings with it the cost of the computers and operating software.

Dickinson County is the smallest county in the state with respect to geographic size, but has very high assessed valuation due to our lakeshore real estate. This results in Dickinson County schools receiving less state aid meaning the Dickinson County taxpayer shoulders more of our local school costs.

As costs go higher – labor, insurance, requests for more services – it is very easy for costs to escalate to a point where the levy rates must increase. To counteract this trend most taxing authorities exert considerable effort to keep the levy rate from increasing because they are taxpayers themselves and the inevitable complaints from taxpayers and the potentially negative results of future elections. Dickinson County and our schools have some the lowest levy rates in the state.

Your property taxes are determined by three primary values:

1.     Assessed Value of your property

2.     State rollback rate (Residential, Commercial, Agricultural, etc.)

3.     Combined levy rate of all taxing jurisdictions that can assess your property

In odd years property is reappraised and a new value assigned that could higher, lower, or be unchanged.

The highest levy rates are usually the K-12 schools followed by the city (if you live in one), County, Sanitary Sewer, and lower taxing entities with less than one percent of your levy.

Your specific tax details are on your property tax bill received each August. A detailed report on the County budget can be found at website