City and County Payroll Provides Property Tax Insight

Dave TrabertTax & Spending

Newly published city and county payroll listings help explain why property taxes doubled, tripled or even quadrupled over the last nineteen years.  Total pay for the nine counties and ten cities published on KansasOpenGov.org exceeds $1 billion, with 756 employees collecting more than $100,000 last year.

City and county payroll excludes benefits but does count bonuses and other forms of pay, including $58 million in overtime.  More than 400 employees took home at least $20,000 in overtime, which often counts toward higher pensions.  County overtime and city overtime lists are published separately on KansasOpenGov.org.  All city and county payroll data was collected in Open Records requests.

Compensation varies widely for similar positions.  The highest paid police chief at $211,401 is actually in the state’s fourth largest city of Topeka. (Kansas City is not included in this comparison as it is part of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.)  Based on job titles provided in the Open Records requests, Wichita and Overland Park have Development Director positions not found in other cities.  Most cities have a single director for Parks and Recreation but Overland Park has a Parks Director and a Recreation Director paid $262,057 combined.

Johnson County by far provides the most generous pay among county employees.  At $189,015 County Appraiser Paul Welcome took home 64 percent more than the Sedgwick County Appraiser.  Johnson County also has two Assistant County Managers who make more than the Sedgwick County Manager.  Interestingly, Shawnee County (Topeka) lists no County Manager or assistant county managers.

The number of employees also factor in to large property tax increases.  Kansas is the second-worst state in the nation for the number of local government employees per 10,000 residents and has 34 percent above the national average on that measurement.  It’s difficult to quantify the degree to which compensation levels and the number of employees impact property tax hikes but it’s significant.  Employee costs tend to be the largest expenditure for most cities and counties for one thing.

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