Will Kansas City school board provide relief for homeowners by rolling back tax rate?

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell Star file photo

The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Education has a chance this week to ease the burden for homeowners caught in the reappraisal debacle in Jackson County.

The board can — and should — lower its property tax rate. It should be able to do so without causing serious harm to public or charter school students, while protecting poor and fixed-income residents from massive hikes in their property tax bills.

The math is pretty clear. The district says the assessed value of all the real property within its borders will jump by 25% this year, to more than $3.3 billion. The total is higher because of the well-publicized county reappraisal process, which left many taxpayers stunned by the much higher valuation of their homes.

Most jurisdictions receiving property tax dollars are required, under what’s known as the Hancock Amendment, to roll back their levies so they don’t get a reassessment windfall. Those jurisdictions are lowering their rates.

But the Hancock Amendment doesn’t apply to the Kansas City school district. If the board leaves the current levy where it is, the district will get a 25% windfall. That could cost homeowners hundreds of additional dollars.

The school district levy is roughly half of the total property tax bill. Rolling back the school district’s rate could have a real impact.

District officials told The Star Editorial Board they haven’t decided on a recommendation to the school board regarding a rollback. The district’s initial budget anticipated a 17% increase in property values, they said, but the extra 8% provided by higher assessments could make money available for improvements such as air conditioning and roof repair.

They also said the bad publicity surrounding reassessment has likely killed any effort to ask voters for a levy increase next year.

We support the Kansas City School District. But we also support homeowners who fear for their homes because of high appraisals. They deserve consideration, too.

A modest rollback in the district’s levy is appropriate. Eight percent seems like a good target.

The district will hold a public hearing on a possible rollback Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the district headquarters, 2901 Troost Avenue. Homeowners upset with their appraisals should be there, as should patrons with children in school, to make their voices heard.

The board will set the levy on Wednesday.

The reassessment process has been a mess in Jackson County. It needs serious reform, something the state legislature should address next year.

For now, though, real help for beleaguered homeowners is possible, and the Board of Education should provide it.