October 26, 2014

Property tax collection up in Kansas

Graphic courtesy of Kansas Policy Institute

Graphic courtesy of Kansas Policy Institute

Property tax collection in Kansas topped last year’s record-breaking amount by 1.8 percent, resulting in $3,988,051,976.58 being taken out of the Kansas economy via taxes on personal and business property. Taxes were increased in 89 counties in 2012 and were reduced in 16 counties; all county totals include all taxing jurisdictions therein (cities, school districts, etc.). An online database of historic property tax information available at LINK, a government transparency using only official government data operated by Kansas Policy Institute, includes new property tax data between 1997 and 2012. Of the 105 Kansas counties, 56 decreased the mill rate, 48 increased it, and one left it unchanged. The mill rate for each all taxing jurisdictions within a county is calculated by the Kansas Department of Revenue.
“Being told ‘We’re holding the line on property taxes,’ by their local officials doesn’t mean much when Kansans realize that the average mill rate has increased 21 percent but total tax collections have increased by 103 percent since 1997,” said KPI president Dave Trabert. “The only way to describe this sort of difference is that an ‘Honesty Gap’ exists between what taxpayers are told by elected officials and what their property tax bill shows them each year.”
The average mill rate in Brown County, for example, did not change in 2012 but tax collections increased by 3.8 percent.
Trabert continued, “Taxpayers are most concerned about their property tax bill being higher; changes in mill rates are irrelevant if the end result is higher property taxes.  Citizens want elected officials to be honest about allowing taxes to increase. The honesty gap basically represents government’s refusal to acknowledge that increased valuations also cause taxes to increase. We need good, essential government services but that does not mean government is entitled to unlimited tax increases. There is no good justification for property taxes having increased at more than twice the rate of inflation since 1997.”
Statewide, the ‘Honesty Gap’ is 82 percent (21 percent mill rate increase v. 103 percent property tax collection increase since 1997) with some counties being above or below the state average.
Trabert concluded, “There is a very easy way to wipe out the ‘Honesty Gap’ – require elected officials to take a public vote on the amount by which they are increasing your property tax. In fact, a piece of legislation was introduced this year to that effect but remains stalled in the Kansas Senate, after passing the House. Local taxing authorities fought hard to avoid having to be honest about the tax increases they’ve been imposing. Kansans deserve better from their government officials.”

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