The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

What Linn County gave a flood victim, it apparently must take back

In Floods, Linn County government on April 3, 2009 at 2:03 pm

The Linn County Board of Supervisors this week agreed to suspend the property taxes of a Cedar Rapids flood victim based on a provision in state law.

Next week, at the advice of the Linn County Attorney’s Office and its reading of the state statute, the supervisors are apt to rescind the suspension, Lu Barron, board chairwoman, and Linn County Treasurer Mike Stevenson said Friday.

As the supervisors recently have discussed flood victims and their property taxes, Stevenson has noted that the county suspends property taxes each year for 750 or so homeowners based on a state law that permits suspensions for those over 65 or those disabled who meet certain income guidelines.

This week, though, the supervisors accorded Dana Spore of Cedar Rapids a tax suspension because she is a flood victim, not because of age or disability.

Barron on Friday said the County Attorney’s Office now has concluded that the provision of the particular state law on tax suspensions does not allow the county to extend it to someone who does not fit the age or disability criteria.

As a result, Barron said the supervisors next week — probably at their Wednesday morning meeting — will revisit the entire tax-suspension matter and see what other state laws exist that might have some bearing the property taxes of flood victims.

“We need to address this,” Barron said. “We can’t let this go.”

For now, though, the need to rescind Spore’s tax suspension will come as a disappointment to Spore and others.

Upon hearing the news about Spore’s tax suspension this week, other flood victims called the supervisors and the Linn County Treasurer seeking like suspensions of their property taxes.

The suspension is attractive to many flood victims who face paying property taxes on flood-damaged homes they cannot live in and likely will never be able to live in again. Particularly upsetting to the victims is that the taxes continue to be based on the pre-flood value of homes. That’s because Iowa’s property-tax system bases current taxes on earlier valuations, flood or no flood.

Without a suspension or tax abatement, homeowners who can’t or don’t pay their property taxes will face interest penalties and see their homes put up for tax sale in June. They could lose the home in two years if they then don’t pay the owed tax and the interest by then.

Scott Labus, the city of Cedar Rapids’ assessor, this week said his office’s new assessments of the city’s flood-damaged residential property found that it has lost $138.5 million of its value to the flood.

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