Commissioners discuss new state law

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth County commissioners had the opportunity Wednesday to talk to state lawmakers about a law that establishes new notification requirements about property taxes.

Commissioners discussed SB 13, which was signed into law by the governor in March.

Wednesday’s work session was attended by state Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, state Rep. Tim Johnson, R-rural Bonner Springs, state Rep. David French, R-Lansing, and state Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth.

The new law repeals a tax lid that previously was in place for county and city governments in Kansas.

The new law will require county clerks to mail notifications to taxpayers regarding which taxing entities intend to increase property taxes to more than a revenue-neutral rate.

A summary of the law by the Kansas Legislative Research Department defines the revenue-neutral rate as “the tax rate for the current tax year that would generate the same amount of property tax revenue as levied the previous tax year, using the current tax year’s total assessed valuation.”

Taxing entities that wish to exceed the revenue-neutral rate will be required approve a resolution or ordinance following a public hearing.

“I know this bill puts a lot of work on the county, especially the County Clerk’s Office," County Clerk Janet Klasinski said.

Klasinski said provisions related to the revenue-neutral rate will apply to budgets that are prepared this year for 2022. But some of the notification requirements placed on the county will not go into effect until next year.

The law has been referred to as a truth in taxation law or a tax transparency law.

Proctor noted all four of the members of the Kansas Legislature who attended Wednesday’s work session voted in favor of the bill.

Proctor said he had heard from local governments that the tax lid needed to be repealed, something that is accomplished through the new legislation.

“I heard that from this commission,” Proctor said.

Proctor said he also heard from voters that property valuations are out of control, resulting in significant property tax increases.

Proctor said he also heard from county commissioners that they felt school districts were not being held accountable regarding property taxes in the same way as the county.

The new law applies to school boards as well as other taxing entities.

Proctor said the bill was the best solution that was presented to lawmakers.

Pittman said the bill is punitive to counties, cities and school boards.

“It doesn’t cap anybody’s property taxes,” he said.

Despite his criticism of the law, Pittman said he voted for it because it repealed the property tax lid.

Commissioner Doug Smith asked about discontinuing the practice of using comparative sales for determining valuations. He said there currently is a housing shortage and people are overpaying for homes. He said this impacts the valuation of houses that are not for sale.

Pittman said this issue was not discussed by legislators this year.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said the tax lid needed to be repealed. But she complained the new law places additional mandates on the county.

“We get used as a scapegoat,” she said.

French said he did not wish to be chastised during the meeting.

“If that’s what this is about, I’m leaving,” he said.

Commission Chairman Mike Smith said the parties would be civil to each other during the meeting. But he said this did not mean there would be no difference of opinion.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson said the law “is not going to fix anything in Leavenworth County.”

“We already had hearings on the budget,” Culbertson said.

He said these hearings are open to the public.

He said 35% of the land in Leavenworth County is exempt from property taxes. He said that means all of the property taxes for the county are collected for only 65% of the land.

“We’ve got to find some way to make up that deficit,” he said.

Culbertson said he wishes the state would help to figure out a solution to that issue.

“I agree there is a lot more work to do,” Proctor said.

Proctor said there is more work to do regarding valuations.

French agreed there is a lot more lawmakers can do. But he noted the bill is now law.

“We’ve got to make it work,” he said.

Also Wednesday, commissioners approved a resolution to appoint County Appraiser Bob Weber to another four-year term as the county appraiser.

Weber has been the county appraiser for 12 years.

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