Despite a last-minute campaign by opponents to derail the plan, the Johnson County Commission should approve a modest tax increase on Thursday.
That would be a brave way to serve county residents by investing wisely in better parks, libraries and transit systems.
Let’s talk facts.
One group critical of the county’s proposed 14 percent tax increase uses a figure stretching back to 1997 to contend the county is a wild spender. But examine more relevant figures: Over the past six years, the county property tax paid by the owner of an average residential property has gone down — from $668.65 in 2009 to $666.34 in 2015. And that’s after taking into account changing home values.
In addition, because Johnson County has relatively high median incomes and values for owner-occupied homes, the county tax as a percentage of household income is by far the lowest in the state. Residents get solid public services at reasonable tax rates.
That’s largely because astute county officials have eliminated more than 400 full-time employee positions, held the property tax levy flat since 2006 and not given county workers full merit raises for the past three years.
Some tax opponents claim the county should drain its healthy general fund reserves to pay for thoughtful and extensive proposals to upgrade transit, library and parks services.
That would be irresponsible.
The reserves would run dry in just a few years if used for annual operating expenses. Also, the reserves help the county maintain the strongest possible credit ratings, which lead to lower interest rates and taxpayer savings on bonds.
The clout of the anti-tax movement is strong. Last year, state lawmakers in that camp cowed commissioners into backing away from a proposed tax increase. But by now it’s clear that reckless moves by the Legislature — such as wiping out millions of dollars in mortgage registration fees — are harming the county.
Commissioners Ed Eilert, Jim Allen, Steve Klika and Ron Shaffer are expected to put the tax increase into effect. That’s a good step toward providing a higher quality of life for 575,000 residents.