Since 2021, Kansas’s Truth in Taxation laws have been a strong tool for taxpayers to voice their opinion and oppose tax increases in their community. Here’s three ways that citizens are empowered to keep property taxes affordable.
1. Local officials must be transparent with their communities. Truth in Taxation requires that taxing authorities within a county send out a mailer to their constituents informing them of their current mill rate, a revenue-neutral rate that would keep taxation at the same level as the year prior, and the mill rate proposed by the taxing entity. If the taxing authority is proposing to charge more than the revenue-neutral rate, the notice must include the date, time, and location for a public hearing, which must be held between August 20th and September 20th. The mailing notice must be sent at least ten days prior to the hearing and the taxing authority must publish information about their hearing in the local newspaper and on their website at least 10 days prior to the hearing.
If elected officials want to exceed the revenue-neutral rate and increase taxes, then they must vote in public. In every step of the way, officials who manage the community’s tax dollars have to give the community a chance to participate in the process and be accountable.
2. Government is held accountable by the conditions of Truth in Taxation. The revenue-neutral/Truth in Taxation law says any taxing authority that does not follow the process may not collect more property tax than the year before. If they do, there is a process for them to issue refunds or apply a credit for the following year.
For instance, this last year, the Baldwin City school board intended to raise property taxes by 17.8%, but instead voted to “accept the revenue neutral rate as presented.” This means that the board voted not to have a tax increase. While this district claimed this was a mistake, the Board of Tax Appeals ruled the majority roll call vote of the board meant that taxes couldn’t be increased due to Truth in Taxation.
Similarly, if a taxing authority doesn’t give prior notice about its hearing, holds it outside of the August 20th-September 20th range, or makes a different mistake, then taxpayers can challenge the tax increases at the Board of Tax Appeals.
3. Citizens can have an honest conversation with their local officials about their taxes. Perhaps the greatest strength of Truth in Taxation is that lawmakers have the be honest and forward with their community if they plan on increasing their taxes. The effectiveness of this depends in part on turning out to testify. Last year, Leavenworth USD 453 was considering an 8.6% tax hike, but instead voted to maintain the district’s revenue-neutral rate after testimony from constituents about their struggles with high prices.
Tax increases vary from zero to double-digit percentage increases. Going to these meetings – especially in a smaller community or to a more local authority – can have a real impact.
Truth and Taxation doesn’t end after the hearings though. Currently, counties are in the midst of their appeals process. In these appeals, the government has to go first in explaining their valuation, to which citizens can listen, point out errors, or ask other questions about their methodology.
The deadline for appeals was 30 days since the valuation mailing was received this year, which is coming up on many Kansans. However, by December 29th, taxpayers can pay their taxes under protests and go through an appeal process. Linda Terrill, President of American Property Tax Council, gave the advice “If [the valuation] is more than you believe you could sell your house for, then you need to be in front of the country appraiser arguing that.” She advised bringing as much information as possible to the appraisal.
In 2021, over half of all local taxing authorities voted to not raise taxes in 2022 as a result of Truth in Taxation. Final actions taken in 2022 for 2023 taxes are not yet available, but it appears that the range again will be from zero to double digits.