Another tax increase? Now Jackson County wants to raise property taxes to help seniors

Jackson County voters will likely be asked in November to raise taxes for programs to help the elderly. Voters should approach the idea with healthy skepticism.
Jackson County voters will likely be asked in November to raise taxes for programs to help the elderly. Voters should approach the idea with healthy skepticism. Big Stock Photo

Jackson County voters will likely to be asked to approve yet another tax increase in November.

This time, the money would go for programs aimed at senior citizens. A coalition of politicians and interest groups is proposing a small, county-wide property tax increase to provide funds for those programs.

A hearing on the proposal is set for Monday afternoon at the downtown Kansas City courthouse.

Voters in Jackson County have demonstrated enormous faith in local government during the past several years. They’ve approved tax hikes and extensions for economic development, infrastructure repairs, capital improvements, public health, programs for children, the zoo, the stadiums, the fight against drugs and more.

This latest tax could test whether there are limits to the voters’ patience with requests for more money.

Under the plan, property taxes would increase by 5 cents per $100 of assessed value — about $9.50 a year for the owner of a home worth $100,000.

The money raised, roughly $5.3 million a year, would “provide programs which will improve the health, nutrition, and quality of life of persons who are sixty years of age or older,” according to the state law that allows the tax.

Supporters say 55 other counties have already enacted it. If passed, the county’s governing body would appoint an oversight board to sort through grant requests from agencies serving the elderly.

There’s a case to be made for additional spending for some seniors, of course. Many live in older homes on fixed incomes. In-home health care and nutrition can be spotty.

Medicines are expensive. Often, seniors live alone, without family members to help with getting to appointments or the grocery store.

Yet a community has many needs, and many taxes to go with them. That’s why voters will want to ask if it’s possible for Jackson County to find $5 million in its existing budget if officials want to expand programs for seniors.

Elderly homeowners will pay the higher property tax, after all. While almost all taxpayer-funded programs are defensible when judged in isolation, when added together they mean real money taken from real people, including the low-income elderly.

Voters will also want assurances that the money will be efficiently spent on those who need help.

We’re also increasingly concerned about the use of targeted levies for public benefits. A targeted property tax increase for one population or interest group takes important spending flexibility away from elected leaders.

Targeted taxes may also reduce public support for broader community needs, such as safe streets and good schools.

With these caveats, it’s possible the seniors tax is worthy of support. Eight members of the legislature have sponsored the measure, which means it’s almost certain the plan will go on the November ballot.

There is time for all voters to carefully study the idea and reach a verdict.

But the bar is going up. At some point, Jackson County voters will be right to ask if they’ve been taxed enough.