Archive for Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Leavenworth County Commission ends solid-waste property assessment

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

July 20, 2010

Leavenworth County commissioners agreed to do away with the assessments on properties for 2011 to fund the solid waste department in favor of a line-item mill levy.

In making that decision, commissioners also agreed to seek requests for proposals from firms interested in buying the county transfer station before the 2012 budget discussion.

With the change, property owners will see a mill levy line item in support of the transfer station on their 2011 tax statements rather than an assessment, which is now $13.52 a year for a single-family residential home.

Commissioners agreed the added mill levy authority would be dedicated to the solid waste department and apply for 2011 only, although it was acknowledged the added authority might have to be approved in coming years.

County Administrator Heather Morgan calculated it would require 0.77 mills to raise $440,000, the amount the assessment on 30,000 properties was to provide in 2011.

Morgan told commissioners, County Clerk Janet Klasinski and Bob Weber, county appraiser, she favored switching because of paperwork headaches involved with the assessment and the $2,200 required each year to stuff the assessment notices in tax statement.

But the main reason Klasinski, Weber and Morgan support the change is the state was mandating the county appraiser’s office switch to a new software system that wouldn’t recognize the codes for the 1,000s of land-use types in the current “antiquated” software. A new software system would have to be written to translate those codes to the 10 used for solid-waste assessments, she said.

Morgan estimated the cost of writing the software at $20,000 but said the firm that developed the county’s antiquated software also owned the intellectual rights to it and could charge much more as the single-source of re-writing the program. Worse, she was not sure it could be done.

The decision to switch to mill levy support came after Commissioners J.C. Tellefson and Clyde Graeber voted to maintain the assessment. That action was rescinded when Graeber, the most reluctant of the commissioners to accept the switch, balked at Tellefson’s challenge to allocate money for the software update.

Graeber said he didn’t favor the added mill levy authority because he said such increases never went away. What was needed was a fresh approach to the transfer station with a financially troubled history, he said.

“This is typical of government — let’s just create a new tax to take care of it rather than find a way to make it operate efficiently,” he said. “It has been an Albatros around our neck.”

In defending the switch, Tellefson and Commissioner John Flower said the switch wasn’t a tax increase because use the new mill levy authority would raise the same amount of revenue as the assessment. More modest homes, those with appraised values of less than $134,000, would pay less, Tellefson said.

Morgan cited other advantages to the switch.

Currently, the only tax-exempt properties in the county paying the assessment are schools and churches, Morgan said. With mill levy support, all exempt properties would be treated the same and free from the tax.

Larger, waste-producing businesses would pay more, Morgan said, giving the example of Wal-Mart, which would pay an additional $3,439 in taxes from the mill levy compared to the $582 the store is assessed. In contrast, smaller business would pay less than, she said.

The transfer station has been the subject of numerous commission meetings since it was learned in March that one of the county’s large trash haulers, Republic Services, would start taking waste to a Missouri landfill.

However on Monday, Mark Wilson, county solid waste manager, said Republic was had only reduced its tonnage to the county facility by 10 percent, and that discounts were given haulers for exceeding tons per month.

That cooled the commission’s desire to modify the transfer station’s gate fees for 2011.

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