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Education watch | Falling property values boost tax rate in Center, Fort Osage

Updated: 2014-01-07T04:16:33Z

By ROXIE HAMMILL

Special to The Star

Dropping property values will mean tax increases of at least 10 cents per $100 assessed valuation for families in the Fort Osage and Center school districts.

Center will increase its levy by 16 cents — 0.1679 to be exact. In Fort Osage, the levy will be increased by 10 cents even.

School districts throughout the state have set their final levies. In many cases, taxing rates have not moved dramatically from the previous year. Grain Valley managed to drop by a fraction of a cent.

Credit state law and changing property values for the small fluctuations. When assessed property values go up, the state requires the levy to go down, to keep the revenue neutral. When values go down, school districts have the option of raising the levies.

In many cases, levies haven’t changed at all. Kansas City, Grandview, Blue Springs and Raytown all kept the same tax rates this year as last.

But in Center and Fort Osage districts, the change was more pronounced.

Fort Osage officials said the tax increase was a result of a dramatic drop in property values. Assessed values this year are $24.5 million less than they were in 2008.

“The historic drop in property values is the driving force behind the district’s need to increase the debt service levy,” said Superintendent Mark Enderle.

The entire increase goes into the debt service fund, which is used to pay off bonds.

Stephanie Smith, spokewoman for the district, said bonds were issued in 2004 to build Indian Trails Elementary School and in 2011 for maintenance, air handling systems and roofing.

However property values have not kept pace in the district, which includes Buckner and part of Independence. There is some hope on the horizon for property values, though, with development along Little Blue Parkway, Smith said.

Officials in the Center School District, in south Kansas City, officials say its “landlocked” status makes it difficult to compensate when property values decline.

Center stretches from State Line Road to the Blue River and includes the Ward Parkway mall area. But it is surrounded on all sides by other districts, limiting the opportunity for new housing developments to increase the tax base, said district spokeswoman Kelly Wachel.

The Center district has lost more than $10 million in assessed valuation in recent years, Wachel said. In 2009, voters approved a 72-cent levy increase for a $6.5 million bond to do maintenance on existing buildings. It was the first increase in four years. Since then, the levy has been rolled back a bit, she said.

The increase didn’t solve every problem, however, The district also has had to make painful cuts, Wachel said. In 2009, the district cut 20 percent of its staff.

This year’s increase will go “just to maintain a normal operational cash flow,” she said.

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