Joco Opinion

Editorial — Shortfall could hurt services in Johnson County

In the great mortgage registration fee debate in Johnson County, the score so far goes this way:

County Manager Hannes Zacharias, 1

Kansas lawmakers and the County Commission, 0

A little background: Conservative state lawmakers last month pressured commissioners not to approve a property tax increase proposed by Zacharias for the 2015 county budget.

Zacharias wanted the county to raise a little extra revenue to make up for the loss of mortgage registration fees, which legislators had decided this year to phase out.

Zacharias and his staff said that move would cost the county $49 million over five years. But state officials said the loss would be closer to $20 million.

Eventually, Chairman Ed Eilert and the commission kowtowed to state legislators. Eilert told The Star later that he would monitor how the phase-out would affect the county’s finances.

Unfortunately, a recently released report shows mortgage registration fee revenue was 25 percent lower than expected in the first half of the year. Overall, the fee could fall $4 million or more short of the expected annual figure.

And that’s before the phase-out even starts next year.

Fewer mortgages were registered in the first half of the year than had been expected, though no one knows if that slow pace will continue through December.

Still, it’s clear that the phase-out could have a larger-than-expected effect on county finances. If that happens, services to residents could be cut in 2015.

So far, it appears the County Commission should have listened to its staff rather than anti-tax Kansas legislators.