••• Tax & Spending •••

More than 100 local governments aren’t increasing property tax

The new Truth in Taxation legislation is already providing Kansans with millions of dollars in property tax savings.  Faced with the prospect of finally having to be honest with taxpayers, 108 cities, counties, school districts, and a community college have already declared they will not increase property taxes next year. Individual property owners may see increases but those cities, counties, school districts, and the community college will collect the same dollar amount of property tax next year as this year.  Another 86 entities are hoping to hold property tax flat but are holding revenue-neutral hearings between August 20 and September 20 in case they change their minds.

There are 19 other local entities that are reducing property tax but still plan to hold Truth in Taxation hearings.  Salina is the largest city that won’t be increasing property tax and neither is Saline County.  Reno County is another large county that is holding property tax flat.

The new Truth in Taxation law automatically reduces mill rates so that new valuation totals produce the same amount of property tax as the prior year.  Any entity that wants to take in more property tax – from either valuations or mill rate increases – must notify the county clerk of their intent to exceed the revenue-neutral rate and provide information about the public hearing to be held between August 20 and September 20.

The final number of local taxing authorities not increasing property tax will grow much larger once all the results are in.  Kansas Policy Institute gathered the information in Open Records requests from county clerks and posted the results of almost 1,100 cities, counties, community colleges, and school districts on KansasOpenGov.org.  Townships, fire districts, cemetery districts, and other small taxing authorities are also subject to Truth in Taxation, bringing the total to more than 4,000 taxing authorities subject to Truth in Taxation.  Our Open Records requests identified many of those other authorities that are not increasing property tax.

An unusual number of cities are also proposing relatively small increases of 2% or less; a few are even reducing property tax.

Attend the public meetings to stop more property tax increases

Truth in Taxation hearings provide a great opportunity for taxpayers to demand efficiency and lower taxes.  Some local officials are finally giving Kansans a break, but there are some who are planning very large increases.  The examples in the table below are just that – examples; check the listings at KansasOpenGov.org to see all of the large increases.

Miami County residents and businesses are being set up for huge tax hikes by the county and the cities of Osawatomie, Paola, and Louisburg.

Some of the more egregious increases in Johnson County include Overland Park, Edgerton, Spring Hill, Olathe, and Gardner.

The City of Colby is proposing a 16.7% property tax hike.  Shawnee County, Cowley County, and Allen County each want double-digit increases, as well as some other counties.

Sedgwick County residents of Goddard and Maize are looking at increases of about 9%.

State funding of public schools will jump by about $250 million this fall, but some school districts are also choosing to impose large, unnecessary property tax increases for their Local Option Budgets and Capital Outlay.  Superintendent Troy Hutton in Osage City told board members last week that the district didn’t need to increase their LOB property tax this year, but board members Cory Linton, Kat Bellinger, and David Williams rammed through a 10% increase over the objection of board president Jay Bailey.  This is just one example of local officials not needing more money but taking from taxpayers anyway.

Truth in Taxation hearings give taxpayers a chance to make local officials justify their tax increases before they vote on them.  Don’t waste that opportunity.  And pay close attention to the scheduled hearing dates and times. A taxing authority could make changes from what was provided to Kansas Policy Institute in early August, so be sure to look for revisions on the county websites.

Next year, each taxing authority will have to mail notices to your house.

Truth in Taxation prompts better budgeting

Many local officials lobbied hard against the Truth in Taxation legislation.  Some said it wasn’t necessary and others claimed it was too much work to tell taxpayers the truth about the entire property tax increase they impose.  The primary objection, however, was that local officials couldn’t spend as much as they wanted if they had to be honest about the entire tax increase (instead of just the mill rate).  Some of them even admitted that they don’t think taxpayers are smart enough to know what needs to be done.

But having to be honest prompted a lot of local officials to sharpen their pencils and make better spending decisions.  And given that spending has grown much more than necessary, local officials have lots of room to find operating efficiencies.

Over the last 23 years, property tax jumped 167%, while inflation was 53% and the population only grew by 11%.  All but about 1% of property taxes are spent by school districts, community colleges, cities, counties, and other local taxing authorities.  The local government sector grew the most, at 187%, while the education sector imposed a 148% increase.

Comparisons of tax increase to inflation and population for each county and about 50 of the largest cities are available here and here.

Transparency battles and other legal issues

KPI’s research disclosed that a lot of taxing authorities did not follow the July 20 requirement.  Some that did meet the deadline still haven’t provided all of the required information, which is noted as ‘not provided’ in the database.

Some entities are holding their hearings sooner than the August 20 date established in state law, and they may have to issue rebates if they don’t follow the law.

There are still 17 county clerks who have not provided any of the information requested as of Monday afternoon, August 16.  Some of them are withholding this critical public information while waiting for a check from KPI to arrive; the vast majority of county clerks graciously did not charge a fee for the information, telling KPI it took very little effort.