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County approves tax help after tornado

Barton County residents who lost their homes or saw major home damage from last month’s tornado may get a break on their property taxes this year, thanks to a resolution passed Monday by the County Commission.
County Appraiser Barb Esfeld recommended that the commission approve the resolution.
It allows homestead owners to apply for a tax abatement or credit if their house was “destroyed or substantially destroyed by a natural disaster.”
Esfeld explained that the county defines a “homestead” as the actual dwelling and a garage, but not barns or other outbuildings. “Substantially destroyed” is defined as 50 percent loss or greater.
While the loss of tax dollars to the county won’t significantly affect the budget, her office also checked the impact on small towns and townships. “They won’t be affected that much,” she said.
There are many things the County Appraiser’s Office has no control over, Esfeld noted. After the tornados that hit Greensburg in 2007 and Hoisington in 2001, county officials didn’t have the authority to offer tax relief such as this.
“You paid 100 percent tax for property even if it no longer existed,” Esfeld said. “After the Greensburg and Hoisington tornados, the (Kansas Legislature) knew that they had to do something.” Counties were given the authority to pass a resolution such as the one adopted on Monday.
After the commissioners voted to adopt the resolution, Esfeld said her office has already prepared a letter that will be sent to the affected property owners. They will also receive an application for the tax relief. Each case will be evaluated and brought to the commission for final approval. The Appraiser’s Office has identified 13 properties that may be eligible for relief.
The commissioners said it’s only right to help property owners.
“I have always been very vocal about the State when they take away the power of the county to tax,” Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. “I’m really in favor of this.”
Commissioner Alicia Straub agreed, saying she was pleased that small cities and townships reportedly won’t be greatly affected by the loss of tax dollars. “It is important to help people affected by this,” she said.