County chairman signs letter opposing bill

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

The chairman of the Leavenworth County Commission said he is not opposed to helping businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. But he opposes a proposed state bill that would allow business owners to receive partial property tax refunds because the legislation places the fiscal burden on county governments.

“We’re not against helping any of these businesses,” Chairman Mike Smith said.

But he said the state government should help fund the measure.

“You have the big purse, the big wallet,” Smith said. “You help us with this.”

Smith spoke about the proposed legislation Wednesday during a meeting of the Leavenworth County Commission.

House Bill 2142 is under consideration in the Kansas House of Representatives’ Committee on Taxation.

The bill, if approved, would make it possible for owners of buildings where businesses are located to apply to county commissioners “for the reimbursement of the property taxes levied upon such property” during a shutdown or capacity limitation put in place by the county.

Property owners could be reimbursed for 1/12 of the taxes paid to the state, county and other taxing entities for the year multiplied by the number of months the shutdown was in effect. In cases of capacity restrictions, “the reimbursement shall be calculated as a 1/12 amount of the total ad valorem real property taxes levied by the state, county and all other taxing subdivisions due for the property for the year multiplied by the percentage of the capacity limitation and further multiplied by the number of months the capacity limitation was in effect.”

County Counselor David Van Parys said the bill would require the county to reimburse property owners for taxes that already have been collected and distributed to other taxing entities.

He said county officials have conservatively estimated the bill could result in a financial impact to the county government of $2 million.

“It could be more,” he said.

The House Committee on Taxation conducted a hearing on the bill Tuesday. Ahead of that hearing, Smith signed a letter in opposition to the proposed legislation.

Van Parys said the letter was provided to the committee as testimony.

Van Parys asked the other commissioners Wednesday to vote to ratify the letter signed by Smith. He said there was not time to bring the letter to the entire commission before Tuesday’s hearing on the bill.

“I actually support the intent of HB 2142,” Commissioner Mike Stieben said. “I do not support the mandate part.”

Stieben noted the letter signed by Smith expresses opposition to any variant of the bill.

Stieben said he would be open to the bill if funding to support the legislation becomes available through additional federal COVID-19 relief.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said the bill is another example of the state spending money from local governments without regard to how that impacts their budgets.

“I think that’s our concern,” Loughry said. “It’s not the intent of the bill. It’s the application of the bill.”

He said the state previously had Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding from the federal government that could have been used to fund the proposed legislation.

Loughry said state lawmakers also are considering other legislation that he argues could prevent the county from generating additional revenue to make up for the money that could be lost.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said mandates from the state government is an ongoing issue.

Kaaz said she agrees something should be done to help businesses that have been impacted. But she said this should have been done by the state government when federal funding was available.

Stieben asked if the bill would give commissioners discretion to deny requests for partial property tax refunds.

“That’s somewhat nebulous,” Van Parys said.

He said the language of the bill seems to suggest commissioners would approve the requests upon application. He said it appears commissioners’ discretion would be “limited to none.”

“I believe it is a mandate,” he said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the chairman’s signing of the letter.

Van Parys said he hopes there will be time to circulate any future letters among commissioners before sending them to the Legislature.

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Approved a resolution to rezone property at 24646 Conley Ave. from a rural residential zone with a minimum of five-acre parcels to a rural residential zone with a minimum of 2.5-acre parcels. The vote was 4-1 with Mike Stieben voting against the motion.

• Approved an agreement with the city of Lansing regarding the maintenance of roadways.

• Received a quarterly report about the Solid Waste Department.