County Commission candidates on the issues: How to address rising property taxes in Johnson County

We continue today with the county commission candidates’ responses to our election questionnaire.

Here’s question number three:

Some areas have seen residential property valuations by the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office shoot sharply upward the past few years, leading to thousands of appeals cases. Are you comfortable with the rate of increased residential valuation in Johnson County? Should the county be taking any steps to mitigate property tax burden on residents?

County Commission Chair

Ed Eilert (incumbent)

The county commission and other local taxing jurisdictions do not have the ability to change the property appraisal process. That process of residential values based on comparable market sales is the responsibility of the state legislature and oversight is provided by the state Property Valuation Department. I have suggested to the Senate Taxation committee in testimony that the legislature expand the Homestead Tax Exemption to allow more seniors at different income levels to benefit. Allowing a set amount of dollar value to be deducted from the final appraisal value should be considered. The challenge is to make sure any change in the appraisal process is uniform and equal. Placing caps on the increase of appraisal values may not meet that challenge. Taxing jurisdictions, including the state of Kansas, need to consider their ability to lower their mill levy each budget year. The County Commission has lowered the county tax rate in the last two budgets.

Trinette Waldrup

Property tax calculations are complex. The appraisal process done by certified county appraisers is the first piece. From that, an assessment is made by multiplying the appraisal by an 11.5% factor in Kansas for residential. When property values go up so also does the assessed value used for your taxes. The 2nd part of the taxes is the Tax Rate -i.e., Mill Levy.

I would much rather know my property has gained value year to year. The increases are real and tied to demand and our economy. Unfortunately, with taxes related to value, taxes go up when the value goes up causing issues. Should the county do something about tax burdens, in a word, YES! JOCO is one of 101 counties in Kansas but produces a 1/3 of the Property tax revenue for the State.

Tax relief will need to start at the State level for the process to change. The counties only follow State directed statutes to appraise, assess and collect the property tax. Change is definitely needed to relieve to the low- and fixed-income residents. It is imperative that the county works diligently now with State legislation for reform.

Some of our board of County Commissioners have blatantly stated they are keeping the tax rates low, but the real facts do not illustrate that at all.

From 2011 to 2018 JOCO portion of the total property tax rate was about 19%+. Unfortunately, the county has increased their Mill Levy by over 30% during this time period. The State, which accounts for just less than 81% of the total Mill Levy (rate) has only increased less than 2% in the same time frame. The Mill Levy is the rate/$1000 assessed value (like a % tax rate). Property value increases compound this by their average increase of 12% same period.

There have been slight decreases that oddly occur during election years
(-.378 Mills for 2019 just announced). These are surrounded by 3 to nearly 4 mill increases. I feel the board needs to be accountable for their actions.

Note: all numbers were verified through the county, and state tax sites, independent online tax services and by pulling Real Estate Tax Statements for a sample home in Olathe, KS. Bond issues and special assessments are excluded. School District Levy included in State portion. Mill Levy rates may vary slightly by location in the county.

District 1

Becky Fast

Many homeowners especially in northeast Johnson County are seeing increases of 20 to 30 percent or more, and that’s on top of similar increases last year. This is especially a hardship on seniors and people with fixed incomes. Many of our neighbors are feeling they are being priced out of their home and can no longer continue to live in their life-long home.

The problem of regressivity — the tendency to overvalue lower-priced homes and undervalue more expensive ones — is worse in northeast Johnson County than in the outer suburbs of Johnson County. This means property taxes are a higher percentage of property value for lower-priced properties.

Currently, many homes have been incorrectly valued at much higher values than they are worth resulting in unfairly high property tax bills. This year, nearly 6,700 Johnson County residents appealed their county appraisal, and of those property owners, nearly half saw their property value reduced during the appeal process. Our residents should see their homes properly appraised the first time without needing to appeal their appraisal. A top to down bottom review of the county’s appraisal process needs to be initiated by the county commission.

The Board of Commissioners should take actions to mitigate the property tax burden of residents. A first proactive step would be to investigate community rebate programs to alleviate the tax burden on income-qualified residents by returning a portion of collected fees and property taxes collected each year. Such programs are currently implemented in several northeast Johnson County cities. In addition, many counties across the nation have a senior citizen tax relief program which entitles qualified senior citizen homeowners to a flat discount on the real estate tax on their primary residence. Johnson County should explore such options for our seniors as well.

Housing affordability is also a workforce issue. Our teachers, police officers, and firefighters should be able to afford homes in the county they serve and we owe it to them to make homeownership affordable and property taxes fair.

Ron Shaffer (incumbent)

During the recession, home values and personal property taxes did not increase and appraisals were not an issue for many years because values were stagnant. Once the economy started to turn around, the housing market began to improve creating dramatic increases in home values in some areas. Home prices, coupled with national awards and recognitions, has put the spotlight on Johnson County cities such as Overland Park, being named one of the “best places to raise a family” (2018 WalletHub). The County’s financial stability (AAA bond ratings), award winning school districts, park/trail systems, libraries and safe cities make Johnson County a desirable place to live, work and recreate.

The process for residential property appraisal is established by the State Legislature and is applicable to all counties. Therefore, Johnson County’s residential property appraisal system abides, and is governed by these Statutes. Our County Appraiser’s Office must, and has, followed the law. Therefore, Johnson County’s residential property appraisal process can be changed by the State Legislature, if there is the will to do so.

While increased evaluation is challenging for those on fixed incomes, the County has a mechanism in place to contest valuations. This year approximately 50% of the contested appraisals were approved and valuations lowered. The calculation of your home’s value is figured on actual sales of nearby properties. As more homes sell, the County has more accurate price comparisons.

A few options which could lead to change, each with issues, requiring Legislative approval are:

  • 1. Change the residential reappraisal cycle from yearly to some other time cycle.
  • 2. Fixed valuations for Seniors.
  • 3. Fixed valuations for health/injury issues.
  • 4. Fixed valuations for military service.
  • 5. More leniency in the appeal process, even though about 50% of recent appeals were modified.

Additionally, there are tax relief programs available through the State. The Homestead Refund is available for those who meet the criteria, and the SAFESR-Kansas Property Tax Relief for Low Income Seniors. A tax professional can help you with your application if eligible. You can learn more about these programs through their website.

Not one taxpayer I am aware of, least of all any elected official, is comfortable with increased taxes, because we are affected also. When it comes time to sell your house the increased evaluation should help you get a better price for your property. The good news is, Johnson County is staying viable and strong, and will continue to do so, as people continue to want to move to our great cities and county.

District 4

Janeé Hanzlick

Johnson County’s rising property values are the result of our outstanding schools, quality of life, and strong business environment.  One thing the County Commission can do is to reject the “dark store” theory, which enables large retailers and big box stores to avoid paying their fair share. This in turn leaves homeowners and small businesses to foot the bill. As County Commissioner, I will work to ensure that homeowners and small businesses aren’t paying more than their
fair share.

I will also look at ways to adjust the mill levy to achieve fair property taxes while still offering excellent county services. I will work to improve the county appraisal system and increase transparency and reliability, including less dependency on comparable sales and more reliance on individual property features. I will seek property tax relief for senior citizens, including providing the option for them to pay property taxes monthly instead of annually, and looking at ways to mitigate unexpected increases in their property taxes. I will work with the state government to explore expanding eligibility for property tax refunds through the Kansas Homestead Refund for seniors and Property Tax Relief programs. I will advocate for Johnson County’s fair share of state and federal funding to protect homeowners and small businesses from bearing the burden of increased costs.

Jason Osterhaus (incumbent)

Johnson County gains 7 to 9 thousand people a year, roughly the population of a city the size of Fort Riley, KS. That kind of population gain leaves us in a supply and demand situation where home prices rise, especially in certain price points.

Currently the county uses a fair market appraisal system set up under Article 11 in the State Constitution. This ensures that property is appraised fairly using sale prices of comparable homes, and that the appraisal is evaluated in a uniform and equal manner. The State monitors Johnson County’s appraisers office for accuracy, and we have been in compliance since 1992.

I don’t oppose changes to the process, but they would have to be done at the State level to ensure compliance with the State Constitution. It is important to remember that over 50% of our property tax bill goes to our schools so any changes made need to keep schools in mind.

The easiest step that the Commission can take to offset the rise in property values is to lower our portion of the mill levy. We have done that in the last two budgets, (FY: 2018/2019) in order to lower the tax burden on our citizens.

District 5

Michael Ashcraft (incumbent)

Property values should increase. Taxes should not. The problem is that most governments are Revenue Based rather than Performance Based. I have supported and will continue to support efforts by Johnson County governmental programs to become outcome based, results based with metrics to identify and set priorities. As many people know, I have voted against the County’s annual budget for this very reason. We should not spend simply because we can spend. As more and more people find themselves on fixed-incomes, creeping taxation haunts families. That’s the trap we face when we allow our governmental programs to spend blithely. Just because assessed values go up, spending aka taxes should not.

LeEtta Felter

I believe that the sharp increases in some residential property valuations, as well as the marked increases in commercial valuations (specifically the “Big Box Stores” between 2015-2016, which went up 104% in one year) are very concerning. Dramatic valuation increases in a short period of time have the potential to create a hardship on homeowners (especially those living on fixed incomes) and businesses.

While I understand that consultants have been hired in certain instances to evaluate the valuation methodology and to consult with our county about appropriate data interpretations and accurate valuations, I believe we need a system-wide examination of the appraisal methodology and processes.

I have serious concern about the unsustainable budget model for JoCo. Our state’s fiscal mess has put pressure on our county budget, shifting costs to the county while eroding local control. Counties now must rely primarily on two revenue streams: property tax and sales tax. High property taxes harm growth and economic development and negatively impact our families and businesses. Not only is sales tax a volatile revenue stream, but parts of our county have some of the highest sales tax rates in the country. I will work to produce more efficient, effective continuity strategies going forward.

Tomorrow we’ll have the candidates’ responses to item four:

 What’s your overall view of the role of county government? Is it fulfilling its mission at present? If not, what needs to change?