Treasurer offering tax info, education online
BY DALE HOGG
Barton County Treasurer Jim Jordan said if taxpayers are nervous and want to view what they owe in property taxes, the same information provided in the mailed statements is loaded onto the county’s website as soon as he receives the necessary numbers from the County Clerk’s Office. This is available about three weeks before taxpayers will receive them in their mailboxes.
On the right-hand side of the home page is a quick link titled Property Tax Search. This opens a form where one can select the type of property in which they are interested (real estate, personal property, etc.).
Then one has to just enter their last name. This will pull up the property or properties owned by that individual with links to lists of tax information.
Taxes can also be paid on line, he said.
Also, as an educational tool, Jordan said his office posted a video on Youtube and Facebook. In the three-minute video, Jordan explains how property tax statements are prepared.
Look for ourbartoncountytreasurer on Youtube or Barton County Treasurer on Facebook.
Barton County is a complex matrix of 56 overlapping taxing entities that either fall entirely within its borders or cover a portion of it. If just one of these is late getting their budget information to the Barton County Clerk’s Office, it delays the Treasurer’s Office from getting property tax statements out to taxpayers.
“It’s a domino effect,” said County Treasurer Jim Jordan, addressing the County Commission Wednesday morning. While the mailing of the statements now rests in the hands of the United States Postal Service, he vented his frustration with how the system works now to sympathetic commissioners.
The statements were mailed in time for taxpayers to receive them by the state-mandated Dec. 15 deadline. They then have until Dec. 20 to pay.
“So the public understands, the only thing we do, or are responsible for, is sending out tax statements,” Jordan said of his department. “That’s it. We don’t put the numbers together. We don’t do anything. We just send them out.”
In order for the Treasurer’s Office to mail the statements, they have to have the correct numbers. They can’t get those numbers until the County Clerk’s Office gets the information and finishes up the tax rolls which include the budget and mill rates for the various taxing authorities.
These include cities, townships, school districts, watershed districts, libraries and others.
Once he has this information, he can prepare the statements, proof them, have them printed and mailed — a process that takes about three weeks.
“So if the public is curious on why they’re late, they need to contact the Clerk’s Office and ask who are the people that we’re waiting on, then they call the folks, whether it be the library or the watershed district or whoever, and put pressure on them to get their job done right,” he said.
Under current state law, the Clerk’s Office must have these figures by Nov. 1.
All the entities have reported their information, but County Clerk Bev Schmeidler said the final straggler was the Wet Walnut Watershed. However, the problem was the watershed was waiting on numbers from Rush County, which, in turn, was waiting for numbers from other counties.
“We have so many shared districts,” she said. “They have to wait for me to send things and I have to wait for them to send things. It’s a long process.”
The crux of the problem
Commissioners understood the complexity and that one entity can hold everyone at a standstill. “So, talking to you, how can it be improved?” asked District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier.
The issue is, Jordan said, the taxing bodies having to wait for the finalized November property values before submitting their figures. They all have preliminary numbers by July 1, and they should be allowed to use this information.
This way, Jordan and Schmeidler said, the clerk could act sooner allowing the treasurer to act sooner. But, “the problem is it doesn’t matter if we agree, you’ve got to get the legislation changed,” Jordan said.
He and other county treasurers across the state, and other county officials, have been lobbying for this. They will step up the pressure this year.
This isn’t unprecedented, said Commissioner-elect and retired County Clerk Donna Zimmerman.
Barton County is part of one of the largest taxing entities in the state — the Central Kansas Library System — which takes in all or part of 16 counties. Because of all the moving parts, it is allowed to use the July values, Zimmerman said.
“I don’t know why they don’t just do away with the two rolls,” she said. “If they would allow all joint districts to use the July estimated value, you wouldn’t be waiting on another county” come November.
The reason for the November deadline is to allow all property values to be finalized, County Appraiser Wendy Prosser said. There is a chance they could fluctuate and these changes could impact a taxing entity’s budget and mill rate.
This is less of a concern for smaller districts and counties, she said. But, it could be significant in wealthier, more populous counties.
Commissioners agreed they, and other county department heads, should send letters to local state lawmakers pushing for this change. They also encouraged the public to get involved as well.
Another monkey wrench
Adding to the consternation is Senate Bill 13, the revenue neutral or truth in taxation law that went into effect last year.
In a nutshell, SB 13 prohibits all taxing entities from increasing their tax collections by more than they did the year previous. This means, if an entity’s valuation (the total value of all property) goes up, the mill rate would have to go down to collect the same amount of taxes.
In addition, it established a requirement of notices to taxpayers and public hearings for municipalities seeking to collect property taxes exceeding their revenue-neutral rate.
The idea was to create more transparency in the taxing process, but county officials said there were unintended consequences. It called for extra hearings, paperwork and work at the county level.
“That didn’t help,” Jordan said. “It crunched the timeline.”
“It (SB 13) needs to be abolished,” Krier said.
District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld was less emphatic. She agreed there were serious flaws with the measure, but understood its intention.
She said there’s a chance it could be salvaged with “serious surgery.”
There is talk in Topeka that the Legislature will revisit SB 13 this coming session, which starts in January.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Wednesday morning:
• Approved a building occupancy agreement with the Kansas Parole Office.
As a means of community support, the State of Kansas Parole office is housed in the County office building at 1208 Kansas, Great Bend, rent free. This agency reimburses Barton County for a portion of the building’s phone and utility costs, Operations Director Matt Patzner said.
The proposed agreement is set to expire Dec. 31, 2023.
This item was tabled on Nov. 30 to allow the commission time to discuss the agreement’s extension in light of the commissioners looking for alternative temporary space next year as the Courthouse’s HVAC system is being replaced.
However, after reviewing Parole’s needs and the small space they use, commissioners were glad to pass the extension.
Although the Parole Office works in conjunction with the 20th Judicial District (courts, Community Corrections and Juvenile Justice Authority), it is actually a part of the Kansas Department of Corrections and deals with those released from prison.
• Renewed the Golden Belt Humane Society operational and support agreement.
The Golden Belt Humane Society offered an updated agreement to the county designating the Humane Society as the animal control authority, said District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld. This is a one-year agreement that made just a few minor changes.
The county pays the society $31,500.
• Approved the annual renewal of computer software licenses.
Office 365 Business enables all computer users to have email hosting, protection and archiving as well as a desktop version of Office, said Information Technology Director Dereck Hollingshead. Approved was the purchase of licenses for up to 185 users.
The bid approved was from True.org Cloud of Pasadena, Calif., for $31,224.
• Approved appointments of deputy and special deputy 20th Judicial District coroners in Barton, Ellsworth, Rice and Stafford counties.
In action taken last week, Dr. Patrick Stiles was appointed to a four-year term as the 20th Judicial District coroner beginning January 2023. Stiles has subsequently recommended the appointment of deputy coroners and special deputy coroners as prescribed by Kansas statutes. Deputies with the same qualifications as the coroner serve a four-year term equal to that of the coroner, and special deputies who have some medical background serve one-year calendar terms.