The Property Tax Conundrum

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“The Property Tax Conundrum”

Every year on March 1st, property tax valuation notices arrive in the mailboxes of Leavenworth County residents. The recent exponential growth of property values in the county has sent residents into shock from the increase in the value of their property which is based upon comparable sales, and the associated elevation of their property taxes.

The trajectory of property taxes in Leavenworth County and most of the surrounding counties is unsustainable.  Valuations across the county have increased 6.4% in 2018, 8.3% in 2019, 5.5% in 2020, and 8.37% in 2021.  These increases in property valuation mean that property taxes also rise.  This pattern of year over year increase can eventually make taxes so burdensome that some of our neighbors, especially senior citizens and those on fixed incomes, could be forced to sell their properties because they can no longer afford to pay the yearly tax bill.  Property valuations for 2021 increased at an even higher rate in southern Leavenworth County with at Tonganoxie 9.9%, Basehor 10.90%, Linwood 14.67%, and rural areas went up 9.54%.

Valuation increases create issues for local government because many citizens believe that the county controls most of the taxes at the local level. This directs much of the frustration from huge property tax increases to county leaders. The real answer to valuation and tax increases on the local level is more complicated.  The county portion of property taxes is approximately 25%-30%, school districts average approximately 35-40% of those property taxes, while all other local government entities including cities, townships, library boards, cemetery boards and fire districts receive the remainder of all property taxes.

Under the current system the only way to see a reduction in property taxes is to get all local government entities to focus on controlling spending and reduce their respective mil levies.  Leavenworth County government has been able to reduce the mil levy slightly in 2018 and 2020 and left the levy unchanged in 2019. Thus, two of the last three years county government has held the line on its portion taxes.

There have been multiple suggestions for reforming the property valuation system including limiting increases in taxation based upon valuations to the CPI (consumer price index), allowing valuations to only adjust upon conveyance of properties, limiting increases on those with fixed incomes or low incomes, or basing property taxes on formulas that are not strictly based upon comparable sales.

The systemic issues related to the property tax system in Kansas need to be resolved on the state level, by our legislators in Topeka.  As your Commissioner, I will sound the alarm to our leaders in Topeka about the ramifications of not acting.  I am also able to help educate local citizens about the property valuation appeal process- also known as equalization appeals- and use comparable sales data to provide Comparable Market Analysis (CMA), for their particular property. This document can be used to offer appeals officers proposed valuation changes or property condition modifications which can allow valuations to be adjusted.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office at any time if you need assistance with your property tax appeals or any other county related issue.

Mike Stieben
Leavenworth County Commissioner District #5