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Legislative session a busy one
Property tax changes, home rule high on the agenda
barb esfeld brainstormers
District 2 Barton County Commissioner Barb Esfeld gives an update on pending state legislation during the County Commission meeting Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Question your property values?

Taxpayers urged to contact Appraiser’s Office


Barton County property valuation notices hit the mail on March 1 leaving many property owners stunned with the increases they are seeing, District 2 County Commissioner Barb Esfeld said, addressing the commission meeting Wednesday morning.

Since the statements went out, Esfeld, the retired county appraiser, and other commissioners have received calls from constituents lamenting the jumps in values.

But, “don’t get angry. It’s hard to do when you look at that and you’re shell shocked,” she said. She encouraged taxpayers to contact County Appraiser Wendy Prosser and her office for an informal hearing.

“Give Wendy and her office a chance, go visit with them,” she said. “They will sit down with you. They have no problem going over your values.

“You might see something that you didn’t know and you might tell them something that they didn’t know,” she said. “And that is why the appeals process is in place.”

The Appraiser’s Office is bound to base values on fair market values and have state-mandated limits. So, even if the process goes further and a property owner continues with a formal appeal, that won’t offend them, she said. 

The next step would be going to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals.

“Even if you don’t have an appeal, you can still request to see the comparable sales (used to set the value) and they’ll send them to you,” Esfeld said. 

But, now is the time, she said. “Don’t wait until it’s a tax bill. I strongly urge people to appeal now if you want to.”

Otherwise, the process becomes more difficult for everyone involved.

The deadline to request an informal hearing or appeal is March 31.

The Kansas Legislature’s 2023 session is slated to adjourn May 22, and at the halfway point, there is a flurry of activity, said Barb Esfeld, District 2 Barton County commissioner and the commission’s unofficial Capitol watcher. From property tax law changes to challenges to home rule, there are a host of proposals on the table.

“Well, there’s a lot going on, and with the last few weeks approaching it’s hard to track bills so I’ve done the best I can,” she said, giving an update to her fellow commissioners Wednesday morning. She has been in constant contact with Sen. Caryn Tyson and the members of an informal group of county commissioners, business leaders and legislative representatives who call themselves the “Brainstormers” with a goal of  lowering property taxes and improving the overall health for Kansans.

“You won’t hear me criticize the state, even for the different things that they’re trying to do. I believe we should work with the state,” Esfeld said. “We are part of the state and if we want our property values lower, we need to be there and that’s why I spend so much time with Senator Tyson and that whole group is to protect us and the State of Kansas.”

That  being said, her committee is pushing for changes.

What about those property valuations?

Currently, Kansas statutes and the state Constitution requires county appraisers to set values based on fair market values. A plan proposed by some of the Brainstormers Monday that has some traction, would tweak this, Esfeld said.

What would happen is the county appraisers would still use fair market value, assessing residential at 11.5%, commercial at 25% (agricultural land would remain at 30%, but this is set of use value, not market value). But, whatever the assessment rate is, it wouldn’t go up any more than 5%. 

So appraisers would still do their jobs, but property owners wouldn’t see assessed value go up over 5%. 

The calculations and cap would be handled through the county’s software. There  wouldn’t be anything done in the County Clerk’s Office or in the Appraiser’s Office.

“I like it because it will allow county appraisers to do their jobs without having to change the Constitution,” she said. 

It would also keep taxpayers assessments from seeing the wild jumps experienced this year, she said. 

And, it would not impact the revenue brought in by the property taxes, she said. This is because values will remain at the previous year’s levels, with only some taxpayers seeing an increase.

However, in a bill floated by Tyson Wednesday, would cap increases at 3% and base values on fair market value, Esfeld said. However, this would require a constitutional change.

“It will help taxpayers who won’t see the large increases, but it is less favorable to me because of the statutes on fair market  value,” she said.

Protecting home rule

“With the Kansas Association of Counties, if we wonder what their worth is, they have really been working to protect the home rule,” Esfeld said. “That is the overreach of state government to take and make laws that affect local government where things should be in the hands of local government.”  

She brought up a couple of examples: 

• Senate Bill 2057. “It’s a success so far because it’s blocked the efforts to outlaw election drop boxes,”  she said. The Legislature has pushed to ban ballot drop boxes, but the KAC has maintained this should be a local decision and have worked hard to prevent this issue from advancing.

• Senate Bill 86. “This is pretty minor,” she said. 

It would require each commissioner to declare if they had any relatives with a leases with or interest in wind turbines or solar farms.  

• “Another one they have really worked hard on is the local sales tax,” Esfeld said. The bill to not only eliminate the state sales tax on food, but the local sale tax as well, has passed through the Senate, she said. 

“It hasn’t passed the House yet, so please get a hold of your representatives,” she said.

“This concerns me because we’re trying to reduce property taxes,” she said. If counties lose this food tax, this will become more difficult to do.

This loss would likely be significant and could impact the mill levy, county officials said.

“If we have to cover the amount of dollars that we lose on sales, tax and food that would be just another hindrance and just throw more on property tax,” Esfeld said. 

It would also impact communities and counties, like in Stafford County,where tax-supported grocery stores have opened, she said. They rely on the food sales tax to pay for these.

The state would remove the food tax, but not help by reimbursing the counties for the money lost, she said.

• Another issue under consideration is moving the state to a flat income tax, she said. Similar plans in other states are being studied.

With all these myriad tax plans and changes, one of the things the Brainstormers group is looking at is doing the Blue Ribbon Study, a deep dive study into taxes, she said. “It would investigate all forms of taxes, and look at other states and ways that we can help.”

This was last done under Gov. Bill Graves. “It’s expensive, but with the extra money that the state has right now, they need to spend it how it works best. And I feel like instead of giving all these little bit of tax breaks here and there, a big study like that can really help Kansas and us locally.”