Hold on to your wallets, Kansas property owners.
City, county and state governments are itching to find new ways to snatch hard earned cash out of the unsuspecting hands of property owners. Scratch that. They’ve always been desperate to take more of your cash, but now local officials are working under a deadline. Things are about to get really, really bad before they get worse.
Johnson County property owners got a taste of the board of county commissioners’ tax grab last summer. Back in August, commissioners passed a 2016 county budget that increased the tax rate by 7 percent despite property valuations also increasing by 7 percent. It was pork wrapped in ham wrapped in bacon wrapped in pork belly wrapped in pancetta. Everyone got a cut — the library, the parks, transportation and a healthy dose to the county general fund. Oink. Oink.
At the time, county officials bemoaned the phasing out of local revenues related to machinery and equipment purchases and the phasing out of a mortgage registration collection fee.
The suggestion that Johnson County was on the verge of cultural devastation without a huge tax increase was laughable then, and it’s laughable now.
I’m no Nostradamus, but I think my crystal ball is pretty accurate when I say the crazy, massive property tax rate increases are about to get worse thanks in part to legislation passed in the heady days of the last state legislative session. At the tail end of the last session, legislators passed a law that will eventually require local governments to seek voter approval before increasing taxes above and beyond the rate of inflation. This is perfectly logical and reasonable legislation, but know you’re about to hear wailing and moaning from local officials the likes of which you’ve only seen outside of a teachers’ union rally.
How, local officials will ask, are they supposed to maintain existing tax rates? How, they will ask, are they to sleep at night knowing that they won’t have unlimited access to their residents’ income? Local officials will call state legislators evil. They will say members of the House and Senate hate children and want to push old people off cliffs or at the very least eliminate libraries and turn parks into condos. None of that will be true, of course, but that won’t keep them from saying it as they increase taxes as quickly as possible leading up to the property tax lid going into effect.
The only part of the state law that deserves ridicule is the part that gave local officials several years to set a baseline tax rate prior to the lid going into effect. For reasons I’ll never understand, state legislators drafted and approved the law last year but gave the cities and counties years to increase to a baseline tax rate.
Although county officials said last year’s enormous tax rate increase was because of delayed projects and great need, I think the massive increase was approved in anticipation of the tax lid. There’s simply no other way to explain commission Chairman Ed Eilert campaigning to maintain existing services and tax rates in 2014, and then immediately changing his mind mere months later.
I realize complaining about the county’s property tax increase is crying over spilled milk, but I bring a warning with this written whine. First, city and county officials will be finalizing 2017 budgets at some point this summer. By statute, city and county budgets must be ratified and sent to the state no later than Aug. 25. In the next six months, local officials — and the city and county staff that lead them — will be quietly seeking ways to increase “needs.”
They must lay the groundwork now in order to ram through giant property tax increases next summer. Don’t be surprised if, in the next few months, your city finds itself in the throes of dire financial straits. Every pothole will be an excuse for a new road. One robbery will be an excuse for adding a dozen new police officers. Both of those things require additional property taxes, and the taxes must be raised today to avoid the tax lid tomorrow.
Be on the lookout.
Residents should also be wary of the sudden professed need for new utilities. If your city doesn’t provide trash service, voter beware. The state imposed property tax lid only affects property taxes. It does not limit increased rates or fees for things like trash service or storm water utilities.
In the coming months, city and county officials will be quietly seeking ways to raise the tax baseline and for ways they can access future revenues.
The only way to mitigate some of the coming tax storm is to be aware of what’s about to happen. Consider this your tax increase storm warning.
Danedri Herbert writes monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @danedri