Opinion: Kansas Legislature must reform Kansas property tax
Since becoming a County Commissioner in 2019, I have never seen an issue that has galvanized the citizens to act like the issue of exploding valuations of property.
The valuation changes lead to dramatic increases in property taxes leveled against residents. Solving the property valuation issue will ultimately require action by our legislators in Topeka.
Several solutions have been proposed, including limiting increases on those with fixed incomes and providing additional government payments or tax rebates to qualifying individuals impacted by high property taxes.
A long-term solution directly impacting valuations and property taxes would be the establishment of a policy whereby taxes on increasing valuations can only go up to match a certain level.
For example, the allowed increase might be the rate of inflation plus a set percentage (ie: 1-3%) as established by each county. Under this system once property is sold, the new owner of the property would have his valuation and taxes brought up to market value. This and other changes must be debated in Topeka to resolve systemic problems with the current appraisal law and process.
The issue of property valuations and taxes is a complicated issue leading to confusion and unclear messaging. A widely held position is that the County Commissioners determine the increases in valuations, which is then mandated to the County Appraiser. Thus, Commissioners could control the rate of valuation increase, which in turn controls the revenue brought into the county. This position does not accurately reflect the law. As your County Commissioner, I believe it is my responsibility to provide education and clarity on this and other important issues facing the county.
Here are some of the questions that have come up recently:
Q: What is the role of the County Commissioners in relation to the County Appraiser?
A: The County Commissioners are responsible for appointing a qualified County Appraiser. The appointee is selected from a state approved list of candidates who have met the educational and statutory requirements as outlined in state law. The County Commission does not have authority over the day-to-day operation of the Appraiser’s office. The County Appraiser is governed by statute and state administrative regulations promulgated by the Kansas Department of Revenue and administered by the Division of Property Valuation.
Q: Does the County Commission instruct the County Appraiser on the amount he is to raise valuations, appraised values, or necessary revenue?
A: No, the County Commission is entirely separate and does not communicate any expectations on valuation decisions of any kind.
Q: Does the County Commission have authority over all property taxes within the county?
A: No, the County Commission only has authority over county spending which is between 25-28% of total property taxes. School districts have authority over approximately 40% of property taxes, with the remainder going to cities, townships, fire districts, library boards and other local subdivisions of the state, and the state of Kansas.
Q: Does the 15.16% increase in valuation mean that the County gets 15.16% additional revenue?
A: No, while there is increased revenue to the County it does not translate dollar for dollar and the increased property tax revenue is spread to all taxing entities including local school districts, cities, townships, fire districts, library boards and all taxing subdivisions within the county and the state of Kansas. Ad Valorem taxes generate approximately 64% of the total revenue funds needed for operation of the County so a 15.16% increase only brings additional revenue to that portion of the county budget.
Q: Why is the use of comparable sales used on residential property?
A: It is required by administrative regulation under the current Kansas property reappraisal statute. To change the current statute, the Kansas legislature will have to repeal, amend, and/or change current law. The County Commission and local government have no authority to change the current appraisal system.
Q: What has the County Commission been doing on the budget and tax reform?
A: The County Commission has lowered the Mil levy two of the last three years. As your representative from the fifth district, I have supported those reductions and advocated for additional spending cuts and property tax reductions. The last budget cycle did include a ¼ Mil reduction, but we could not reach agreement on additional reductions. I voted NO on this budget, because I thought we could responsibly include additional cost saving measures. During the same budget cycle vote, I voted NO on going above a revenue neutral rate of spending.
Q: What can a private citizen do to help change the system?
A: Please contact your local State Representative and State Senator and let them know you believe that the property tax issue must be a priority during the next legislative session.
Finally, the County Commission recently held a joint meeting with the City of Leavenworth to discuss many issues. It has been suggested that all local taxing subdivisions in the county gather for a joint meeting to understand the property tax mechanism and agree on minimum target reductions to be implemented in the budget of each taxing authority. It was proposed to suggest a 3% reduction as a starting point for all local governments, hoping that some could do substantially more. Kansas has become a high tax state and unless we all work together future generations of Kansans, and our elderly may be forced to go elsewhere.
— Stieben represents the Leavenworth County Commission’s Fifth District.