November vote may reduce Kansas boat property taxes

Kansas voters will get another shot in November to cut property taxes for the state’s watercraft.

A constitutional amendment that could save boat owners hundreds of dollars is on the ballot, effectively standardizing the highest rates in the Midwest with surrounding states, supporters say.

Kansas boat owners are registering their craft in Oklahoma and Missouri, amendment proponents say, to avoid paying property taxes that can be eight times the rates charged in adjoining states. Currently, boats are classified in the “other” category of personal property and taxed at 30 percent of value multiplied by the county’s mill levy.

A $20,000 boat in Oklahoma would carry a $150 property tax bill; in Kansas, the same boat would carry a $750 property tax bill, amendment proponents say.

A yes vote on the amendment supports taxing watercraft at a lower rate. A vote against retains the 30 percent tax rate for boats.

The state’s Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is leading the charge for passage of the amendment, bolstered by state bass fishing organizations and marine watercraft sales firms.

A similar proposed amendment failed by less than one percent of the electorate in 2000.

The drive is based on statistics: Boat registrations are down about 20 percent in Kansas over the last decade, to about 83,000 annually. Those missing 20,000 boats translate into as much as $1 million in lost annual tax revenue, said Dan Hesket, the boating law administrator for the wildlife department.

“When you start to look at the reasons why, it tends to come back to the property tax,” Hesket said.

“It’s our belief that if this passes, we’d be bringing those registrations back into Kansas,” said Don Leatherman, Liberal, president of the Kansas Bass Federation Nation. “It’s kind of counter-productive, as we see it. People are registering and housing boats out of state. It’s kind of a deterrent to visiting Kansas, actually. If we can get the number down to a fair tax, we can fix that.”

Rep. Jeff King, R-Independence, said the proposed amendment standardizes boat taxation with other recreational vehicles. A similar amendment for RVs passed in 1992 and eventually resulted in substantial tax cuts for those vehicles, which are now valued according to vehicle weight and age.

“We tax boats differently than almost any other kind of vehicle in Kansas,” he said. “Much differently, and much higher than any other state. We need a fair shake, a tax on boats that makes sense, because we’re losing a million dollars a year in taxes that should be paid right here.

“Instead, people look at our rates and dock the boats somewhere else — if they buy the boat at all.”

Salina sportsman Bob Roberts has a message for Kansans who want to bring down the property tax bill on watercraft: If you can afford a $50,000 boat, you can afford the property tax bill.

“I had this fella call me trying to enlist my support to cut the property taxes,” Roberts recalled, pausing frequently to break out in laughter. “He found this $55,000 boat he wanted to buy, but he can’t afford to buy it unless we get the property tax in line.

“I mean, does he realize how much sales tax he’s going to pay on that boat at 7.5 percent? I think I’d worry more about that than about paying $1,000 a year in property taxes on a boat.”

New boat sales have plummeted in Kansas, as have the number of new boat dealers in the Wichita metro area — once in the double digits, now down to three.

“Personal property, if it gets changed it’s bound to help,” said Kelly Miller, owner of Crestview Marine in Wichita.

Miller dumped new boat sales three years ago for used boat sales, and doesn’t expect to offer new boats again if the amendment is approved.

“The used boat market is very strong,” he said. “Everything else is right about Kansas right now. You pay $32.50 to register the boat for three years. You couple that with a more in-line personal property tax bill, it’s a more winning formula for people who sell boats.”

Roberts still is skeptical, saying that tournament bass fishermen who want to save a “few bucks” are driving the amendment change.

He likes his two old boats that cost $100 and less for annual taxes.

“The fish don’t care,” he said.