The Kansas Senate Tax committee’s goal is to slow down the growth of Kansans property taxes.
The Kansas Policy Institute research revealed Franklin County’s property taxes increased 183% and the mill rate went up 37% between 1997 and 2018. The KPI report showed city of Ottawa property taxes went up 146% with a mill levy increase of 9% during the same time period.
Other cities and counties are even higher, with the city of Gardner’s increasing 510% and Mitchell County taxes up 402%.
The Senate tax committee heard Kansans’ complaints about the system and is proposing Senate Bill 294 to give more transparency to taxpayers.
Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, chairwoman of the Senate tax committee, gave an overview of SB 294 to the Franklin County Republican Central Committee on Monday during its monthly meeting. She said the bill doesn’t limit cities, counties or school boards from increasing their budgets but allows the public to vote on the entire tax increase being imposed.
“It would be transparent for property taxes,” Tyson said. “I have sat in meetings where the local (taxing authority) will say ‘I did not raise your property tax.’ We have people come up and testify and say, ’My property tax went up and I am writing a bigger check. I talked to my commissioner and he said I did not do it. He said talk to Topeka. I talked to my legislator and they said they did not do it.’ They are running in circles trying to find out why they are writing a bigger check. They don’t care about valuation or mill levy. All they care about is they are writing a bigger check.”
The committee modeled the bill after Utah and Tennessee property tax systems. The committee worked on the bill details for three years, Tyson said.
“This program has been in place for 35 years in Utah,” Tyson said. “What it does is give transparency in the property tax process. That is all we are asking.”
Dave Trabert, of the Kansas Policy Institute, said the system works well in both states.
“What they have seen happen in Utah over the last 18 years is the effective property tax rate went down 7.5% where here in Kansas it has gone up 22%,” he said. “This is a wildly popular process in both states. It is part of the culture in local government. It is simply about being honest with people how much (their taxes) are going up. All it says is whatever increase you want, you vote on. Not the mill rate, but the whole property tax increase.”
Tyson said taxpayers — in the various taxing authorities that plan on increasing property taxes — would receive a letter from the county clerk’s office stating the increase and the date of the public hearing.
“It is the Truth in Taxation Hearing,” she said. “It is a system that works. It is not something we pulled out of the air. We would like to implement this and get rid of the property tax lid.”
Trabert said 75% of Kansans support the bill with only 11% in opposition.
John Coen, president of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee, said the change would hurt economic development.
“The whole idea behind economic development is to raise appraised value in the community,” he said. “Increases in appraised value is how we have been able to sustain without raising mill levies significant or at all. The change in our appraised value allows our communities to operate.”
Coen said it would not be prudent for city and county officials to sell their budget increases to the public.
“Nobody wants to vote for a tax increase,” he said. “That is why we elect city commissioners and county commissioners to dive into the budgets. I don’t think this will change the common understanding of how appraisals and mill levies work.”
County clerk Janet Paddock, secretary of the Republican Central Committee, said the added work for her office could be more than meets the eye.
“It would put a lot of stress on us,” Paddock said. “I will have to ask my staff to do more with the same. I am worried about that.”
She said there are 47 taxing districts in the county and mailing a letter to everyone affected by increases would occur during early voting season.
“We truly believe in transparency for government,” Paddock said. “We are trying to do things to grow our community so when we get those big businesses in here we can lower the taxes. I am a taxpayer just like you. I don’t want my taxes to go up either.”
Rick Oglesby, former county commissioner, said the public does have avenues to be a part of the budget process now.
“They have the right to attend every budget session,” he said. “They can ask for any of those minutes. I don’t think we should complicate the system a lot more when we are trying to make our local area better by building our property valuation. What would be the bonus of increasing and bringing in a multi-million dollar business to increase their property valuations.”
Tyson said those are valid points.
“I understand why (there) are concerns,” she said. “It is a big change. We are always uncomfortable with change. It is good policy. It makes sense for locals and the state as far as property tax. Do you know how many people we are losing because of our taxing (system)? Do we want business as usual ... keep it the same or do we want to see some changes that are not tying the hands of local government.”
Tyson, along with Rep. Blaine Finch and Rep. Mark Samsel, will attend Saturday’s Legislative Coffee to discuss this bill and other public concerns. The event starts at 10 a.m. in the City Hall commission chambers.