Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Wednesday morning:
• Held a discussion on the Revenue Neutral Rate and its impact on the budgeting process. Kansas Sen. Alicia Straub joined the meeting.
• Straub also discussed her concerns with election security, in regards to the auditing of voter rolls and the importance of hand counting ballots when needed.
• Approved an amended billing for the mailing of Revenue Neutral Rate notices.
On July 13, the commission approved a bid from Postalocity of Wichita at a cost of $8,950.54 for bulk printing and mailing the notices as required by Kansas law, said County Clerk Bev Schmeidler. But, once printed, the number of notices was double that of the original projection which resulted in a final billing of $14,920.37.
The commission ratified the payment of the $9,032.90 balance.
The Clerk’s Office solicited proposals for the bulk mailing of the notices as prepared in cooperation with area taxing entities. The approximately 17,000 – 18,000 notices, as prepared through the county’s Computer Information Concepts bookkeeping software, had to be mailed by Wednesday.
So, the Commission ratified the payment of the remainder of the billing at $9,032.90.
• Approved a bid for design, bid and inspections services needed for an emergency repair to a bridge across Cow Creek on NE 70 Road, .2 miles west of NE 150 Avenue.
The existing corrugated steel deck is failing. County Engineer Barry McManaman said, adding an area resident brought the problem to the county’s attention. Under an agreement submitted by Kirkham Michael Engineers of Ellsworth, the provided services will cost $19,000, and they are looking at going with a concrete deck which would cost about the same and last longer.
It was noted that Kirkham Michael handles the county’s biennial bridge inspections and this bridge was last inspected in 2021.
The road to property tax transparency is paved with good intentions.
That was Kansas Sen. Alicia Straub’s assessment of Senate Bill 13, the so-called Truth in Taxation or Revenue Neutral bill enacted by the Kansas Legislature in 2021. Straub, from Ellinwood, serves the 33rd District and joined the Barton County Commission Wednesday morning to discuss the measure which created much consternation amongst local officials.
During the 2021 session, the tax lid was removed and the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 13, county Operations Director Matt Patzner said. This bill established notice and public hearing requirements if a taxing entity’s proposed budget will exceed the property tax levy’s Revenue Neutral Rate (generally, the RNR is the tax rate in mills that would generate the same property tax revenue in dollars as levied the previous tax year using the current tax year’s total assessed valuation).
“I did vote in favor of that bill,” said Straub, who served as a commissioner for four years prior to entering the Legislature. “As you all may have remembered, when I was on the commission in 2015, I was a an opponent of the tax lid.”
The lid was implemented by the Legislature in 2016. With this, cities and counties could not raise their mill rate, but the law didn’t restrict what the entities could garner off those mills.
The tax lid was universally despised by local leaders as being restrictive.
“I was an opponent of that because it took away local control. And I firmly believe in local control over state control,” she said “However, Senate Bill 13 removed that tax lid. And so I supported that bill because of that,”
Not a perfect solution
“It is transparent, but it isn’t perfect,” Straub said. She has approached the Kansas Revisor of Statues about some changes she hopes to introduce in the 2023 legislative session.
As written, the bill mandates all taxing entities to mail notices if they intend to breach the RNR. “I think the key word here is intent. If the county does not intend to exceed that Revenue Neutral Rate, I don’t believe that the county should have to send out a notice.”
Another alteration she’d like to see involves the June 15 deadline for entities to file their notices that they may exceed the RNR. The issue is that officials must base this decision on preliminary valuation numbers that may change by the time they are finalized in November.
Straub said this is unfair, and the taxing bodies should be only be accountable for the June 15 figures. “I feel should be the (early) numbers that affect whether or not the county goes over the Revenue Neutral Rate.”
Finally, Straub would like to see a limit to a taxing entities liability should it not intend to exceed the RNR, but for some reason, it does. “The county would not have to remit a refund if it’s not in excess of $5.”
Speaking of refund checks, it was suggested by commissioners that a taxpayer be given a credit on their taxes for the next year. This, officials said, would be easier.
Straub said most of her fellow legislators don’t have experience in county government and have no idea of the ramifications this bill had. She has tapped her experience on the commission and information gleaned from talks with Barton County officials to propose a better piece of legislation.
A costly endeavor
Supposedly, the state will pay for mailing the notices for the first two years, Straub said. After that, they local governments will be on their own.
It is costing Barton County about $15,000 to mail notices this year. The bill allows for the county to recoup the cost from the myriad taxing entities, but how that will shake out is unknown.
Commissioners stressed they have no intention to raise taxes, but worry the notices will cause confusion. Like other entities, the county will be included on the notices and an RNR hearing set just to be safe.
The notices were mailed Wednesday. Each taxpayer will receive a notice only including the taxing entities of which they are a part, meaning not all the notices being mailed are the same.
The additional expenses will be tough on small governments like townships with limited budgets and personnel, District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier said.
“What bothers me is it’s the state’s thumb on all of these local taxing subdivisions,” Straub said of what she feels are onerous requirements. “I wish that the state would put the same restraint on themselves.”
She cited the state’s $21.9 billion budget. She also noted the Attracting Powerful Economic Expansion (APEX) bill signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly in February.
It “addresses the unique needs of for-profit companies within targeted industry sectors that invest $1 billion or more in the expansion of their operations or relocation of their headquarters anywhere in the state,” according to the Kansas Department of Commerce.
However, Straub said it amounted to nearly $1 billion in tax incentives pushed through solely to attract the Panasonic electric car battery plant to DeSoto.
“This is our tax dollars going to a multi-billion dollar foreign-owned company manufacturing electric vehicle batteries and we all know what fuels this area. It’s agriculture and oil,” she said. “They are killing western Kansas.”
Commissioners agreed with Straub’s thoughts.
“It is nice to have somebody that’s been in this chair serving the Legislature,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3, of her commission experience. ”I think we all agree the spirit of Senate Bill 13 was in the right place and they’re doing it for the right reasons.”
District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz hoped Straub had a “loud voice” in Topeka to make the needed changes.
“I admittedly voted in favor of Senate Bill 13, not to cause you all a bunch of grief, but because it is transparent,” Straub said. “It’s not perfect. And nothing we do in Topeka is perfect.”