I read with interest the article about the recent legislative coffee where our state representatives discussed the “800 pound gorilla in the room”, i.e. school financing. The article pointed out that Kansas needs $37 to $50 million in new money, and that the House of Representatives has “no idea where it will come from.” Some time ago, I sent a suggestion to John Edmonds. Since I received no response, I assume that my idea was not acceptable to him. Well, let’s see what the general public thinks.
In Kansas, residential property qualifies for what is called the school general fund exemption, which works like this. The first $20,000 of the property’s appraised value is exempt from the school general fund. The mil levy for the school general fund is currently 20 mil. Multiply the $20,000 exempt value times the residential assessment rate of 11.5%, then by 20 mil. The math works like this: $20,000 x 0.115 x 0.02000 = $46.00. This represents the maximum school general fund exemption for each piece of residential property in the state of Kansas. Remember that this exemption applies to all residential property in the entire state.
Originally, this exemption was intended to provide relief for taxpayers on a fixed income. But remember that the exemption was approved nearly twenty years ago, when property values were much, much lower, and when $46.00 was a substantial portion of a taxpayer’s real estate tax bill. Since then property values are much greater. Look at your 2015 tax statement. You will see a line with your total property tax, and then a line that has the School Exempt tax amount. Then consider this. If your tax is $1000 (probably a low average for Barton County), would you consent to a $46 increase in that tax ... especially if you were guaranteed that this increase would go directly to the schools in Kansas? I have no doubt that the vast majority of property taxpayers are not even aware of the school general fund exemption, but would still agree with me that this is a good reason to repeal the school general fund exemption.
Are you still concerned about taxpayers on a fixed income? Fine. Amend the school general fund exemption by adding a valuation floor. Let’s say, for example, that property valued at $40,000 would still qualify. Using Barton Co’s tax levy for Great Bend, the total tax on this property would be $791. An exemption of $46 might be a significant tax reduction for such a taxpayer, but this is only one possible suggestion.
Believe me when I say that I would be among the last to give more money to a government -- state or federal -- that hasn’t shown the ability to spend money wisely. However, since the schools in Kansas are facing a court ordered shut-down, my suggestion makes sense at this time. If you agree, please urge your state representative to repeal the school general fund exemption, either totally or in part, so that our schools have the money they need to educate the children of Kansas.
Robert L. Marsh