Another tax increase on the November ballot? For KC voters, the bills are adding up

The Kansas City Public Library will ask voters to raise property taxes in the November election.
The Kansas City Public Library will ask voters to raise property taxes in the November election. File photo

In mid-August, the Jackson County Legislature quietly took a proposed property tax increase off the November ballot.

The increase — 5 cents per $100 in assessed value — would have provided money for senior services.

But legislator Scott Burnett said the November ballot was simply too crowded for voters to give due consideration to the seniors tax. “We want to ensure the voters are able to focus on this issue,” he said.

Other lawmakers quickly agreed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen us do this before,” legislator Crystal Williams said.

She was talking about the process for removing a ballot measure, but she was also right in a bigger sense. It’s rare to see any public body walk away from a vote on higher taxes.

That thought came to mind last week when the board of the Kansas City Public Library sent a property tax increase to the November ballot. The money raised, about $2.8 million a year, would pay for library upkeep and improvements.

It would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $30 more a year.

Kansas Citians will want to study the proposal carefully. The public library is an important community resource; at the same time, all taxpayer-subsidized institutions must show they’re spending public money appropriately.

The tax will share the ballot with a proposed statewide phased-in fuel tax increase that would add 10 cents a gallon to the bill at the end of four years. Residents will also have to consider the increase against higher-than-ever water and sewer bills in Kansas City.

The library is an important community asset. So are streets and highways that are safe and convenient. Taxes and fees add up quickly. That’s what Burnett was getting at when he pulled the seniors tax from the ballot and why he was wise to do so.

Kansas Citians feel tax inflation keenly. They approved property and sales tax hikes in 2017 to pay for infrastructure and other city improvements. Earlier, Kansas City and Jackson County voters said yes to taxes for the stadiums, the zoo, programs for children and the fight against drugs.

And many of those increases added to the tax burden of the working poor. Kansas City’s overall tax burden remains regressive, and additional increases could make it worse.

One of the unfortunate side effects of so many votes on so many tax hikes is occasional confusion on the part of the electorate. Voters don’t always add up the bill.

Before November, we’ll try to do that. Then voters can make realistic decisions about the choices they’ll need to make.