For seniors on fixed incomes, big jumps in property value could put major strain on budgets

Sue Hirner has lived at her home in Prairie Village for more than two decades — but she’s worried increasing taxes may ultimately force her to move.

When Prairie Village resident Sue Hirner bought her home near 71st Street and Nall Ave. a quarter century ago, it cost about $75,000. Since 2016, she’s watched the home’s value jump by as much as she paid for the whole thing.

With a valuation notice of $219,900 she got from the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office the last week of February, Hirner has seen her home’s value — and the amount of property taxes she could owe — jump by about 50 percent in two years.

The increase she saw from 2016 to 2017 equated to about $200 more in property taxes than she had the year before. With the addition of nearly $52,000 in value on this year’s appraisal, she figures she’ll owe just over $700 more in property taxes if the mill rates stay the same. That’s nearly $1,000 over two years.

“That may not sound like a lot to some people, but if you live on Social Security, it takes a chunk out of your budget,” Hirner said.

Hirner is among a large group of northeast Johnson County homeowners pondering what to do after receiving valuation notices with increases 0f 20 percent or more. She thinks she’ll file an appeal with the Appraiser’s Office given that her three-bedroom, one-bathroom home hasn’t had any major improvements in recent years. But she also hopes the officials in charge of setting the property tax rates here — from the Prairie Village City Council to the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners to the Shawnee Mission Board of Education — will consider adjusting their property tax rates down.

Hirner stresses that she’s not against paying her share. She says she’s been happy to pay taxes to support county services and schools, and voted in 2016 in favor of the sales tax increase to pay for the county courthouse.

But she’s also frustrated by how the steep jump in her home’s value will stress her finances. Now 74, she retired from a career in customer service with General Electric four years ago. She raised six kids, all of whom took some kind of a college degree, “from associate’s degrees up to doctorates. They’re all productive. No one’s a slacker.” With her family raised and decades of work behind her, she’d hoped to be able to enjoy retirement. She quilts. She takes care of her house, still doing the yard mowing and wall painting herself. She volunteers. And she minds every penny.

“I live on the proverbial shoestring,” she said. “I pay my bills. I don’t buy what I can’t afford. And I’m okay with that –that’s what I planned for.”

She’s worried, though, that the upward trend in property taxes could eventually force her out of the house.

Hirner said she’s exploring options available to seniors to exempt some of their home’s value from portions of property taxes through the Homestead Act. But she’s also looking to her elected officials to keep folks like her in mind as they set next year’s tax rates.

“I have heard a lot of other people in their 60s or 70s say, ‘I can’t retire, because if I retire I can’t afford to live in house anymore,” she said. “I think that’s sad, and I hope the officials will do something about it.”