Barton County Appraiser Barb Esfeld testified last Wednesday before the Kansas Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee. She hopes the lawmakers received her message.
“There are a lot of issues with property taxes,” she told Barton County commissioners Tuesday morning, recapping her appearance in Topeka. “There’s a lot of finger pointing. They’re saying whose fault is it?”
To understand the core issues, Esfeld took the commission back to 1989 when the state underwent a massive reappraisal effort. The goal was to balance the “three-legged stool” of property tax, income tax and sales tax.
“Things were fine for a while,” she said. “But now they are off balance.”
“The Legislature changed the laws exempting more things from the tax rolls,” Esfeld said. As the list of exemptions grew, the revenue local governmental entities could generate from property taxes shrank, meaning there was more reliance on sales and income taxes.
This shifted the burden more to the local level where most of the sale tax rates are set, she said. Also, with this reduction in the tax base, mill rates also increased to make up the difference.
“Overall, you still need the services,” Esfeld said. “We need money, we need to find it somewhere.”
This is why Esfeld, who serves as the president of the Kansas County Appraisers Association, offered testimony to the Senate. She will return at a later date to address the House Taxation Committee.
“They are trying to blame appraisers,” she said of many legislators. Instead, there are many factors to blame, she said, including the growing number of exemptions, eroding tax base, declining population in the rural communities and others.
“We are the eyes and ears of the taxpayers,” Esfeld said. During payment-under-protest meetings, more and more taxpayers are only concerned with how much the taxes are, not their property values.
Retired people state that they cannot afford to live in Kansas and will have to sell their homes, she said. “I personally have seen several homes listed, sold and the owners move out of state. I’ve been a Kansas resident all my life. I want to retire here and I don’t believe that is the kind of state we want to be.”
Other states, including states surrounding Kansas, don’t have as much of a problem, she said. “Kansas needs to look at all avenues that other states have taken.”
She said she will continue her lobbying efforts, hoping to get state officials to listen. Maybe, they will revisit the roster of all that has been stricken from the tax rolls.
The job of the appraiser
There is a misconception that appraisers set taxes and their goal is “to make peoples’ lives miserable,” Esfeld said. But, “it has been our job to maintain fair and equitable values to promote equality amongst property owners.”
She presented a short video entitled “Who Are Appraisers?” to the commission. Prepared by the Riley County Appraiser’s Office, it is the same film she showed to lawmakers last week.
It outlined the duties and responsibilities of an appraiser. It also set aside some common myths about what these folks do.
“Appraisers don’t set taxes. Appraisers don’t collect tax dollars. Appraisers are interested in fairly determining property values, and take great pride in it,” the narrator said. “They are just other taxpayers. They are just determined to make everything fair and equitable.”
It is the appraisers job to determine how much each property is worth. After the appraiser determines the value:
• Local governing bodies set their tax rates and budgets for the coming year.
• The total is divided up among all property owners.
“If one notices a change in their property’s value, the change is a part of a never-ending quest for fairness and accuracy,” the narrator said. They look at similar properties and sale prices, and terms and conditions of the sale. Square footage, age, features, location and improvements are also considered.
Most swings are the result of changes in the real estate market, the film notes. “You can rest assured that the number hasn’t been drawn out of a hat. Appraisers are here to help, not hinder,” the narrator concludes.
It’s all about to start again. Property values will be sent on March 1, ushering in another 30-day protest period.