Municipal Service & Technical Assistance

Region XII COG assists with the following municipal services:


Planning and zoning are important tools for cities and counties in that they provide the opportunity to establish land use patterns that are logical, orderly, attractive, and convenient. Communities that have been carefully and thoughtfully developed are instantly recognizable. Private investment is encouraged and protected in such planned environments. Similarly, public resources can be expanded more efficiently as a result of sound planning enforced by effective zoning.

Under Iowa law, zoning ordinances must be made in accordance with a local comprehensive plan, the completion of which is the first step to effective zoning. The authority to establish and implement zoning regulations rests with local governments. All larger cities within the state, many of Iowa’s smaller communities, and many counties have adopted zoning ordinances to enhance both public and private investments, to improve the quality of life, and to protect the local environment. Zoning authority is granted to Iowa cities by Chapter 414 of the Code of Iowa, and to counties by Chapter 335.

Cities and counties that implement zoning must appoint both a planning and zoning commission and a board of adjustment to comply with Iowa law. The responsibilities of these entities as well as the local governing body are as follows:

Governing Body (City Council or Board of Supervisors):

  • Adopt the comprehensive plan
  • Adopt zoning regulations
  • Amend and make changes to the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance
  • Appoint members to the planning and zoning commission and board of adjustment

Planning and Zoning Commission:

  • Prepare the comprehensive planning and zoning ordinance
  • Give recommendations on proposed changes in zoning or in the comprehensive plan
  • Review and update planning and zoning documents

Board of Adjustment:

  • Interpret zoning regulations
  • Grant exceptions
  • Grant variances

In short, zoning is very important to the orderly growth of cities and counties. Region XII COG can assist cities in reviewing and updating existing zoning ordinances as well as preparing and implementing new zoning regulations for areas where zoning is currently not in effect.



Ordinances are local laws governing many actions in a city or county that range from liquor licenses to stop signs. Iowa law provides cities and counties the ability to adopt ordinances as well as the requirements for doing so. COG staff can assist cities in preparing new ordinances and revising existing ordinances. Staff members will also work with local governments and their attorneys to ensure that ordinances are enacted properly.



Iowa law requires that cities and counties compile a “code of ordinances.” Cities are required by Section 380.8 of the Iowa Code to compile a code of ordinances containing all city ordinances in effect, except grade ordinances, bond ordinances, zoning map ordinances, ordinances vacating streets and alleys, and ordinances containing legal descriptions of urban revitalization areas and urban renewal areas. The city clerk must maintain a copy of the code at city hall.

Cities are required to maintain their codes in one of three ways. First, the city may compile an annual supplement to the code of ordinances, which consists of all new ordinances and amendments to ordinances that became effective during the previous year. This supplement must be adopted by a resolution of the council and placed in the code of ordinances. Secondly, the city may insert new ordinances or amendments to ordinances directly into the code itself. This must be done at least annually. Finally, if the city does not compile an annual supplement, annually insert changes into its code directly, or has not made any additions or amendments to the city code, it must compile or “codify” the code of ordinances at least every five years. If there have been no substantive changes to the code, the city may simply adopt the code by ordinance. However, if the city has made additions, amendments or intends to change any code provision, it must hold a public hearing on the proposed code prior to its adoption.

County legislation is governed by Chapter 331.302 of the Code of Iowa, which requires that counties compile a code of ordinances containing all of the county ordinances in effect at least once every five years. If a proposed code of ordinances contains a proposed new ordinance or amendment, the board of supervisors must hold a public hearing on the code before adoption.

Region XII COG has worked with city and county codes for many years, and can assist in the proper codification and adoption of city codes. Consultation with the city or county attorney is always part of the process.



General Obligation Bonds are governed by Chapter 384, Division III (for cities) and Chapter 331, Division IV, Part 3 (for counties) of the Code of Iowa. General obligation bonds are debts incurred by cities or counties that are repaid through property tax revenues. General obligation bonds can be issued for both “essential corporate/county purposes” and “general corporate/county purposes.”

“Essential” purposes, while varying between city and county regulations, usually include such projects as bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, and some urban renewal projects. “General” purposes also differ for cities and counties, but can include community centers, fire and police stations, and other public buildings.

Bonds for “essential” purposes can generally be issued without a public vote provided the amount of the bond does not exceed a maximum amount as specified in law for the population of the area served. Bonds for “general” purposes, however, usually require the approval of 60% of the affected voters in a special election.

Additionally, cities and counties have limitations on the amount of general obligation debt they can incur relative to their property valuation. For more information on general obligation bonds, see Chapters 331 and 384 of the Code of Iowa and contact your city or county attorney.



Revenue bonds are debts incurred by cities or counties that are repaid through fee revenue. For example, a city may finance the construction of a new water treatment facility through a revenue bond. Payments on the debt are made from revenue generated from the fees paid by the users of the water system. Most revenue bonds do not require an election of the voters.

For more information on revenue bond financing, contact your city or county attorney.



Tax increment financing (TIF) is a method of reallocating property tax revenues that are a result of an increase in taxable valuation above a “base valuation” figure within a tax increment area. Until the tax increment debt within an area has been repaid, tax revenues produced by property tax levies imposed on the increased taxable valuation by a city, county, school district, area school, or any other taxing jurisdiction are all allocated back to the jurisdiction (city, county or community college) that established the tax increment area, and must be spent by that jurisdiction for projects within that area. The process to establish a tax increment financing area is as follows:

  • Identify the boundaries of the proposed area.
  • Determine if the conditions in the area qualify the area to be designated a “slum,” “blighted” or “economic development” area, as defined in Chapter 403.
  • Prepare an urban renewal plan outlining objectives to be accomplished within the area.
  • Set a date for a public hearing by the city council or board of supervisors.
  • Obtain approval of the plan by the local planning and zoning commission.
  • Send a copy of the plan and the notice of hearing to each of the other affected taxing entities (counties, local schools and area colleges) and schedule a date and time for a “consultation session” with those other affected taxing entities.
  • Hold a public hearing.
  • Adopt a resolution approving the urban renewal plan.
  • Adopt an ordinance designating the tax increment area.

(Source: Robert E. Josten, Dorsey and Whitney, Des Moines)



Chapter 404 of the Iowa Code gives cities and counties the authority to offer tax abatement for improvements on property assessed as residential, commercial, and industrial. In order to offer such incentives the governing body must first designate an area of its jurisdiction as a revitalization area based on any of the five criteria listed in the Code. The governing body must then adopt a resolution finding that the rehabilitation, conservation, redevelopment, economic development, or a combination thereof of the area is necessary in the interest of the public health, safety, or welfare of the residents of the city, or county as applicable, and the area substantially meets the criteria of section 404.1 of the Iowa Code. An Urban Revitalization plan must then be prepared in accordance with section 404.2(2) of the Code. The plan will specify the tax exemption schedules and properties to which they apply. A public hearing must also be held prior to the official adoption of the ordinance and Urban Revitalization Plan.

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