In some neighborhoods, the value of a single-family home has shot skyward. Countywide, the average home value has gone up 7 percent — more than triple the inflation rate.
That’s peanuts, though, compared with the 16.6 percent value jump in Spring Hill, or the 15.6 percent hike in Mission. Residents in Prairie Village, Merriam and Roeland Park have also seen double-digit home value increases on average.
Because those values can mean dramatic increases in property taxes, many homeowners are angry. They have every right to appeal their specific appraisals, and many will do so.
To them, and to all Johnson Countians, we offer additional advice: Don’t be mad at just the appraiser. It might be time for a good conversation with your city council member, or county commissioner or school board member about how your money is spent.
After all, the impact of higher home values would be largely mitigated if every Johnson County jurisdiction cut its mill levy by the amount of the increased home value. Few would be concerned.
That rarely happens, of course. Instead, most of the county’s city councils and school boards use an old trick: They freeze the mill levy, or roll it back slightly, but rely on fast-rising property values to provide additional cash.
Elected officials can then claim they “held the line” on the levy, while still spending more tax money.
Johnson County residents have largely tolerated this chicanery, in part because public spending is popular. Good schools, clean parks, and safe roads are not only important, they also help maintain home values. And they help attract new residents, who can share the tax burden.
That trade is harder to pull off, though, when a home is suddenly worth 30 percent more than it was two years ago. That can mean hundreds of dollars in additional taxes, often in communities with younger families and lower salaries.
Home values in Roeland Park, for example, are up an average of 16.25 percent. At the same time, the city government’s 2017 property tax levy was among the highest in Johnson County.
Roeland Park residents should be talking with council members about a levy rollback. Other cities with growing values should consider the same.
Don’t let schools off the hook, either. While quality education is a critical piece of the county’s attractiveness, school levies are the largest single component of a property tax bill. Residents should insist on efficiency and fairness in spending decisions at the schoolhouse, in addition to arguing with the appraiser.
Rising home values are not always a bad news story. The new appraisals reflect high demand and low inventory, which can mean tens of thousands of dollars in additional profit for residents who sell their homes. They also signal that Johnson County remains a popular place to live, which suggests its governments are doing what the people want.
Those governments must now act wisely by resisting the urge to splurge with windfall dollars from higher home values. High tax bills will just chase people away.
Most Johnson Countians believe governments should spend what they need to make neighborhoods good places to live and not a penny more. Now, more than ever, they must make that case.