Officials set Dubuque County, city assessed value increases

Creek Wood Drive in Dubuque, Iowa on Wednesday. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Dubuque County homeowners this week will start receiving notices of the assessed value of their properties for this year — and in nearly all communities, those values are increasing on average.

Assessors for the city of Dubuque and Dubuque County reported a strong buying market for homes in 2020, prompting them to calculate property valuation changes. Because of those new calculations, homeowners will generally see assessed-value increases larger than have been typical in recent years.

Homeowners are expected to start receiving their assessed-value notices on Friday.

For city of Dubuque residents, the average increase in assessed value for residential properties is 9.8%, though some could see increases as high as 16%. Dubuque County residents outside of the city will see an average increase of 7.3%, but some communities will see increases as high as 15%.

The only two communities that saw assessed values decrease on average were Farley and Sherrill, according to numbers provided by Dubuque County Assessor Dave Kubik.

Changes in assessed values for individual homes will vary based on multiple factors, including the home’s age, condition and additions.

“Really, we’re not estimating why buyers and sellers are doing what they’re doing,” Kubik said. “All we’re doing is measuring what they’re doing in the market.”

The increases were needed after both the city of Dubuque and the rest of Dubuque County saw assessed-value levels lower than 100% for property sales in 2020. Assessed-value levels, or median ratios, are determined by taking a property’s assessed value and dividing it by its sales price. Levels below 100% show that homes sold for more than they were assessed.

The city of Dubuque’s assessed-value level based on 2020 sales was 87.4%, and the rest of the county’s was 89.7%. State law mandates that assessed-value levels must be between 95% and 105% to keep value assessments equal across the state, so local assessors were required to increase area assessed values.

Dubuque City Assessor Troy Patzner said that if the local assessors didn’t set assessed-value increases themselves, the state would have issued a blanket increase of about 14% to area residents to set the local median ratio around 100%.

He said assessed values are reevaluated every odd year, and home sales have been strong since the last reassessment. Sales of homes priced at $80,000 to $250,000 have been particularly strong, he noted.

“We had a lot more sales also,” Patzner said. “We ended up with about 1,024 sales (in the city) last year. The last couple years before that, we were in the low 800 range, so we’ve seen a lot higher volume. … I think that the low interest rates partially had something to do with it. It seems like other jurisdictions that I’ve spoken with seem to say the same thing.”

Patzner said the assessed-value increases — which are based on a home’s value as of Jan. 1 — will be applied to tax bills in September 2022.

However, both Patzner and Kubik noted that assessed-value increases won’t automatically translate into higher tax bills.

Per Iowa law, the state’s rollback rate — which determines the percentage of a property’s value being taxed — ensures that there is only a statewide 3% growth in assessed values when calculating tax bills. Kubik said assessors in Iowa already know the rollback is going to help offset assessed-value increases and, therefore, any tax increases when they calculate new values.

“Based on what I’ve heard in my discussions, there’s going to be a 7 to 8% (assessed-value) increase statewide,” he said. “There’s no scientific fact behind that, that’s just an educated guess. If that happens, the rollback will drop into 3%.”

Patzner said setting assessments can be difficult because assessors are basing values of all homes on a much lower number of actual sales.

County residents who disagree with their valuation increases can have informal discussions with assessor’s office staff in April or file an appeal with the local Board of Review from April 2 and April 30.

Patzner said residents’ taxes likely won’t go up as much as assessed values, and a clearer picture of tax impacts will come into focus after the new rollback factor is set later this year.

“Overall, the market is pretty strong, and that doesn’t exactly mean taxes are going to go up that amount,” Patzner said. “That isn’t going to be the case.”