The Kansas Legislature will consider a proposal to restrict local municipalities from raising property taxes without voter approval.
The bill was proposed by Sen. Jake LaTurner who represents Crawford County. Since the last property tax law in Kansas was repealed in 1999, cities and counties set the amount from their local tax base. LaTurner’s bill would require voter approval for any property tax increase above increases for inflation.
“If there is a reason that governments need to grow faster than that, then I think voters need to approve it,” LaTurner said.
The senator proposed the same bill last session. Legislators enacted the law after adding some stipulations to LaTurner’s bill.
“This year, I’m coming back to get the rest of it,” he said.
Marybeth Grimes, of Pittsburg, agrees with LaTurner.
“I think that taxpayers should be allowed to vote,” Grimes said. “I think that law makers need a little more accountability.”
Tim Casper, also of Pittsburg, shared similar sentiments.
“I believe as a taxpayer we should have the right to vote on matters of increased taxes,” Casper said. “It gives us a choice of where those tax dollars are going to.”
LaTurner believes the measure would curb “out of control” rising property tax levies.
Lawmakers in favor of the restrictions note that property tax levies in Kansas increased an average of 9.25 percent in urban areas from 2008 to 2015, 14.4 percent in rural areas, according to figures from the state Department of Revenue.
Compounding the effect is increases in property values, rising 6.67 percent during the same period.
Although, Crawford County and Pittsburg are comparable with the property tax increase, both show a loss in assessed property value.
From 2008 to 2015, property values in Crawford County have gone down nearly 0.16 percent, according to figures from the county.
The property tax levy has gone up 9.6 percent — from 45.23 mills to 49.584 — during that period.
“It seems to me that would be a fair process,” said Tom Moody, county commission chair. Moody said he would need more details about the bill before forming a solid opinion.
Pittsburg's property values dropped 6.7 percent during that period, according to figures from the city, the property tax levy has increased 6.6 percent.
“I don’t agree with it,” said Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall. “We elect local people to make these decisions locally.”
Voter approval outside of a general election in Pittsburg costs between $10,000 and $15,000, Hall said.
LaTurner said the savings realized would be more than the expense of an election.
If the bill is not passed, the related law enacted last year would take effect in 2018, which differs from this bill in that local municipalities would not need voter approval to increase property tax for spending on road improvements, paying for legal judgement, new infrastructure and to cover bond payment.
There is also a bill to repeal the 2018 law.
LaTurner said his rush to get this enacted by July 2016 is to prevent local municipalities from hiking property tax levies due to the 2018 “hanging law.”
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.