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March 2013 Brief: Volume 20, Number 7

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How Much Do You Pay in Property Taxes?


by Deborah D. Thornton



The Iowa state budget currently has a surplus, a rather significant one. This means our taxes are too high. Not that the state does not spend enough, but we are paying too much. Every penny paid in taxes is a penny not being invested in new jobs or providing for our families. And if you live in Dallas (Adel), Johnson (Iowa City), or Polk (Des Moines) Counties, you might want to think about moving. Homeowners in these three counties pay some of the highest property tax rates in the entire United States, according to the Tax Foundation.


The Tax Foundation, established in 1937, works to establish a “simple, sensible” tax policy. Given the complexity of our IRS Form 1040s for 2012 and our state tax forms, apparently there is still work to do. However they keep trying to have a wealth of free data available about how much we pay in taxes and where it goes.[1] The Tax Foundation has gathered the data, ranking states and individual counties on property tax issues for several years now. They provide one-year specific data (2010 is the most current) as well as rolling five-year averages in an easy-to-search and use database. You can find it at


They do not have current rankings for all 99 Iowa Counties, but rank 10 of the largest: Black Hawk, Dallas, Dubuque, Johnson, Linn, Polk, Pottawattamie, Scott, Story, and Woodbury. Johnson County taxpayers rank highest in the state on the “median property taxes paid,” at $2,702 per home. This is 195th highest nationally and is enough to rank in the top 10 percent of all U.S. counties. Johnson is followed by Dallas and Polk Counties on this ranking.


This is partially driven by the median home value in Johnson County, at $190,000. In comparison, the median home values in Woodbury County are only $98,500. It appears that the state tax money being paid to administrators, professors, and doctors in Iowa City and Coralville is rather generous, or at least they’re putting it into their homes. Granite counter tops and three car garages, anyone?


A tax-and-spend liberal could argue that the property tax rate in Johnson County is actually not high enough, as they only rank 233 in “taxes as a percent of home value.” Polk, Woodbury, Dallas, and Black Hawk County residents all pay more based on this category of analysis, with Polk County ranking highest at 153 nationally, paying 1.68 percent. This is, again, in the top 10 percent of all counties nationally.


Dallas County (Adel) residents actually have the highest median household income, at $77,909, followed by Johnson County at $74,842. Their taxes paid ranking is quite a bit lower than Johnson County, at 3.27 percent of income compared to 3.61 percent in Johnson. The County Supervisors, City Council, and School Board members are directly responsible for these rankings. Polk County residents again have the privilege of paying the highest rate in the state and number 234 nationally, at 3.76 percent. Johnson follows them.


Interestingly enough, though Story County is a major college community, just as Johnson County is – their tax rates and rankings are more modest across the board. Apparently electing 100 percent Democrats for 50 some years in Johnson County does result in higher taxes.


The Tax Foundation has also done work analyzing household and citizen movement, which is consistently from high tax paying states to lower tax states.[2] In making good economic decisions for their families, workers in Dallas, Johnson, and Polk Counties might want to look at moving elsewhere in the state and driving a bit further to work.


However, with the State Legislature trying to increase the gas tax – you’re still going to pay.


Property Tax Rankings – Iowa's 10 Largest Counties
The Tax Foundation


[1] “About Us,” The Tax Foundation, <> accessed on February 6, 2013.
[2] “State to State Migration Tool,” <> accessed on February 12, 2013.


Deborah D. Thornton is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at

Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used:"Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute." The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry.




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