Rep. Tom Cox introduces bill aimed at preventing property taxes from ‘pricing people out of their homes’

Rep. Tom Cox.

As this year’s wave of Johnson County property appraisals hit mailboxes in the Shawnee Mission area, Rep. Tom Cox started hearing stories that concerned him.

One came from a couple in their 80s living at a home they own in Shawnee. They’ve been on a fixed income for 15 years. And over the past couple, they’ve seen the total value of their home jump by $100,000. The hundreds of dollars in additional property taxes they were paying to the city, the county, the school district and other taxing entities were hitting them hard.

“We are legitimately pricing people out of their homes with these valuation increases in some cases,” he said.

So Cox set about looking for ways to ease the burden of property tax hikes on seniors. A provision in the state constitution prevents Kansas from capping the value of a home based on the age of its owner. But there’s nothing in the constitution that would stop the legislature from allowing seniors to defer added property taxes they may owe.

A bill Cox has submitted in the House tax committee would allow Kansans aged 65 and older to defer increases in property taxes up to $2,500 until the property changes hands, either through sale by the owners or when the estate of the owners divests it after they’ve died.

The idea, Cox said, is to protect older homeowners from financial burdens that might force them to move while still ensuring that cities, counties and other taxing entities get the revenue they need to provide services. By making the taxes due when the property in question has sold — ostensibly allowing the owners to take advantage of the increased value of their property — it ensures there are funds available to pay the deferred taxes.

Cox said he’s not sure whether the bill will get a hearing this session or not. The chair of the tax committee has told him he’s open to the idea of bringing the bill forward if it looks like the idea has a lot of support. But with time running short, it’s unclear whether Cox will be able to get enough momentum to justify a hearing.

That said, Cox notes that he’s committed to pushing the initiative next session if he’s returned to Topeka by voters.

“At our house, we’ve seen the value go up around 30 percent over two years, which means I owe around $1,000 more in property taxes,” he said. “If this is hitting me hard, I can only imagine what it’s doing to people on fixed incomes.”