Garden City Mayor Troy Unruh considers a Kansas Senate bill touted as a boon for property tax transparency to be a hamstring on the capacity of local public agencies to create jobs.
The bill targeting tax revenue increases resulting from higher property valuations led Harvey County Commissioner Randy Hague, of Newton, to declare it an erosion of municipal government autonomy. Andover City Council President Troy Tabor said the process outlined in the bill was overly burdensome and complex enough it could result in the opposite of transparency. The bill won't do anything to limit the state's collection of property taxes, said Garnett city manager Christopher Weiner.
McPherson Fire Chief T.J. Wyssmann said the "truth in taxation" legislation restricted the city's ability to fulfill obligations to public safety because it wouldn't exempt fire, medical and police agencies. Compliance will force acquisition of computer software and hiring of additional staff, said Will Johnson, the Butler County administrator in El Dorado.
"This is a big government solution to a small government issue," said Joe Warren, Atchison's administrative services director. "Approval of this bill would be akin to Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer pushing through restrictions and unfunded mandates on states throughout the country. Your constituents don't want big government micromanagement."
The avalanche of opposition and expressions of support for the bill introduced by Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, illustrated tension that surfaces whenever the Kansas Legislature plunges into debates about property taxes collected by local units of government. While the bill was opposed by local government officials from across the state at a hearing last week of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, it was endorsed by influential special-interest groups that included Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Chamber and Kansas Association of Realtors.
"One of the biggest complaints that we hear from our constituents is property tax. It is a major issue. Nobody has been willing to deal with it," Tyson said.
She said Senate Bill 294, modeled on a longstanding Utah law, would require municipal units of government receiving more than $5,000 annually in property tax revenue to send notices to residents with an estimate of the projected increase in property tax revenue tied to valuation adjustments.
Governing bodies in Kansas would calculate a "certified tax rate," a figure verified by the Kansas Department of Administration and expressed in mills. It would show a governing body's proposed tax rate, using the new year's assessment valuations, to generate the same property tax revenue as the previous year. The governing body would conduct public hearings and a special vote on a resolution or ordinance to claim additional revenue resulting from valuation increases.
The bill wouldn't take into account changes in the consumer price index influencing demand for local government spending. It wouldn't take into account expiring tax abatements nor routine business expansion.
John Donley, lobbyist for the Kansas Farm Bureau, said the organization's 30,000 members often shared concern about rising property taxes. State and local units of government have increased reliance on property taxes in the past several decades and Farm Bureau supports legislation addressing that trend, he said.
"While this bill does not create spending limitations, it does require local units of government to provide adequate public notice and have adequate hearings before increasing the budget of the local unit of government," he said "This bill does serve as a good conversation starter."
An official with the Hutchinson-based Kansas Cooperative Council, which serves agriculture, utility, financial and consumer cooperatives, said operators of grain elevators continued to struggle with high property taxes on commercial storage facilities.
"Many of our members are still seeing sharp hikes in their appraised valuations and continue to muddle through the long and arduous appeals process," said Shahira Stafford, of the cooperative council.
Dave Trabert, who lobbies at the Capitol for Kansas Policy Institute, said county appraisers supportive of the Senate bill didn't appear at the hearing due to fear of retaliation. Elected city and county officials oppose the Senate reform bill because they don't trust voters to make the right decisions, he said.