There have been at least three examples of late of just how out of touch the Kansas Legislature is with rural parts of the state. All of these are issues being grappled with by Barton County officials.
First, is the property tax lid that was passed by the 2015 Legislature. This prohibits cities and counties from raising new revenue without putting the increase to a public vote.
The thing is the legislation didn’t say how this was to be done and provided no way for an election to occur.
Furthermore, the lid was initially to be effective in 2018. But, oops, it was passed with an effective date of 2016, which means it would have impacted the present budget and it provided no ability whatsoever for cities and counties to prepare for the change.
Fortunately, this oversight was caught and in the wrap-up session it was revised to reflect the intended 2018 date as originally planned.
Now, this doesn’t mean everything is hunky dory. Counties still don’t like this, but now they have additional time to fight it.
Next is plan by eastern Kansas lawmakers to change how farm land is valued. As it is now, it is basically based on the ground in question produces, but the change would value it similar to residential properties.
But, in rural parts of the state, crop and livestock prices are down and oil and gas revenues are down. This would be devastating to landowners and farmers.
Granted, more revenue dollars are needed, but it should not be done on the backs of rural Kansans.
Lastly is the statue passed this last session by the Legislature. This statute deals with maintaining values after a taxpayer appeals a tax bill and it goes to a hearing.
Under the change, if a property owner is successful and has the tax bill lowered, that lowered rate must apply to the current plus the next two successive years.
Sounds harmless. But, there are Kansas Constitutional issues.
Counties believe this statute violates Article 11 of the constitution, which, in part, calls for uniform and equal property values. Should the property market go up, the property owner mentioned above would have unfairly lower taxes than neighbors with similar properties.
Johnson County is leading a “Mandamus Action” lawsuit against the Property Valuation Division of the Kansas Department of Revenue challenging the law. Barton County is considering joining in on this.
Here’s the kicker – this is hugely unpopular with county officials and even with the Property Valuation Division itself. The statute is another shining example of lawmakers not thinking through what they are doing.
County Appraiser Barb Esfeld had the right idea when she addressed the County Commission Monday morning. “This is going to be an import year to attend our coffees and our legislative coffees,” she said, adding residents need to bend the ears of local legislators.
The only way our voices can be heard is if we use them.