A Closer Look: Dale Hyman
Owner of Property Tax Consultants Inc.
The 2012 property tax debate came and went in the Iowa Legislature, and for once, Dale Hyman wasn’t around to weigh in on the issue. For 39 years, he has surveyed properties and established the value at which they would be taxed. In 2007 and 2008, he was a member of the Legislature’s property tax study committee, representing the Iowa Department of Revenue, where he was administrator of the property tax division from 2007 until his retirement in September. He also was a member of the Legislature’s tax study group in 2004. Hyman was the chief deputy assessor for the city of Des Moines for 10 years and held the same title with Polk County for 10 years. These days, he lives in what might be the city’s only log cabin, where he tends to a plot of prairie grasses and wildflowers, takes bicycle rides accompanied by his dog and visits his children and grandchildren in Des Moines, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Next year, he imagines that his business, Property Tax Consultants Inc., will boom because of people wanting to appeal their property taxes.
Why is it difficult to change property tax law?
I think that backfilling the loss to local governments is the issue. How much of a hit is local government going to take? Where do you find other revenues, especially in these times when sales tax and income tax revenues took such a dive in 2008? Traditional sources of revenue have been in decline, but they are starting to come back now. Whether they can adequately support significant reduction in property taxes is another matter.
Do we have an inequitable system?
I think our property tax system is pretty good from the viewpoint that it’s based on market value. Your assessed value shouldn’t be any more than what you can sell your house for. Any number of states have a system where your value is some percentage of the full value. Are you at 40 percent of market value or whatever? When you get your notice, it should be for what you can sell you property for. That’s simple enough.
Did the increase in values leading up to the financial collapse in 2008 skew things?
With assessed value, statistically that wasn’t true. We set values every two years. When you have inflation, you set it on Jan. 1, 2011, for example, based on sales in 2010. Most of the time, we had some inflation going on, so you would wind up maybe 10 percent low or 15 percent low. Now, where values are flat or increasing slightly, the assessed values are a lot closer to market values.
Are you surprised that the legislative debate ended without a solution?
No, we have relatively high property taxes in Iowa. If you’re not going to have property taxes, what are you going to have? I served on two different property tax reform committees that were created by the Legislature. When you look at alternative forms of revenue, each one has people who don’t want it. Nobody likes property tax, but they don’t like higher fees, or, for example, putting some kind of taxes on exempt properties. You can see the problem; it’s just not easy to solve.
Does the link between agricultural land and residential properties cause a problem?
It has created some issues over the years, but right now, no. There’s a lot of value in the bank, is what I call it, that can be accessed for future growth and taxable value. … What happened in the late 1970s, when we created the rollback, there was a lot of inflation, especially in farm values. Values were going up double digits every year. The rollback was put in place to limit the growth in taxable value. In the early 1980s, they created that tie between ag and residential. As it evolved, there were several years where there wasn’t any growth in ag values. The total value of residential didn’t go up, and in the meantime, there was no tie to commercial. They weren’t even making the 4 percent a year. In the history of rollbacks, occasionally there will be a real small rollback on commercial, maybe 1 or 2 percent, then it goes away, so we have that big disparity between commercial and ag and residential.
What is the rollback based on?
It’s based on the total amount of growth in a class of property in a year. … You take your taxable value the year before and increase that by 4 percent, with some adjustments for new construction and transfers out and other of thing, and divide the new value into last year’s taxable value plus 4 percent and get that value. The concept is simple enough.