JCCC Board of Trustees candidates on the issues: Setting the college’s property tax rate when home values are rising

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for the candidates running for JCCC Board of Trustees.

Today, we begin publish the candidates’ responses to item two:

Property valuations have been going up across Johnson County in recent years — which means that taxing entities have seen tax revenues they receive from local residents rising as well. What’s your philosophy on setting property tax rates when property values go up? Should the board be looking to reduce the mill levy in such situations?

Colleen Cunningham

I generally agree that as assessed property values increase, we should reduce the mill levy to compensate. It’s important that voters understand that the JCCC mill levy currently accounts for 8% of our property taxes. Even if we slashed the school’s budget to cut the mill levy by 10%, it would only save a Johnson County resident with a $250,000 home about $25 per year.

Our community colleges in Kansas are funded through a combination of property taxes, state investment, student tuition, grant programs, and so on. When any piece of this puzzle changes, the funding mechanism must be rebalanced, so there may be unforeseen circumstances which would prevent me from voting for a reduction. On the whole, I support policies which work to avoid “sticker shock,” both for Johnson County property owners, as well as students and their families paying tuition.

Jameia Haines

While knocking doors over the past several months, the most common theme that I have heard among Johnson County residents is protecting property taxes. As a Trustee I feel it would be my job to lower the burden on Johnson County property tax payers when possible. The Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees has a responsibility to the students and the tax payers. Johnson County residents have seen property tax increases due to rising property values. When these increased valuations occur producing increased tax revenues beyond what the College anticipated I believe that tax property rates should be considered and the mill levy should be reduced when applicable. The current Board has done a commendable job of maintaining the delicate balance between the revenue sources: local property taxes, state aid and student tuition. I support continuing those efforts as the College is central to the economic well-being of the community and the citizens it serves.

Nancy Ingram (incumbent)

As a current trustee, we continue to work hard to achieve a balance to the funding of JCCC. The board has in fact, voted to reduce the mill levy the past two years. Reducing the mill levy simply means we did not take as much from the taxpayers as we initially projected and were presented with, in the preliminary budget. Taxpayer dollars remain a part of our funding equation, but the board voted, and I agreed, we would not take the full amount. We also reviewed tuition, which had not been raised in the years I have served on the board, and this year, we voted to increase tuition by one dollar per credit hour.

The mill levy, tuition and state funding are our options to consider when planning the budget. With state funding remaining relatively flat over the past few years, we work with the mill levy and tuition to generate revenue.

My philosophy is that we put together the budget first, make sure it is fiscally responsible, see what is needed and reduce the mill levy to meet budget demand. We take seriously what we do with taxpayer money. Additionally, the economy plays a role, but my response is to consider all options, make the best decision based on the current needs of the college and to respect the funding streams for which we maintain responsibility.

Greg Musil (incumbent)

Every governmental level should set budget priorities, taking care to fund what is needed and being careful before funding what is “wanted.”   I have been consistent throughout my elected service when It comes to property tax rates.  Whether it was at the City of Overland Park where I served on the City Council for 8 years or my last 8 years at our Community College, I have advocated for setting budget priorities, for avoiding unnecessary tax burdens to our citizens, and for reducing the property tax rate when increased property values yield more revenues than the budget required.  For the past two years I have been a leading voice on the Board of Trustees to reduce and roll back the mill levy so we only take the additional property tax revenues we truly need and we have budgeted for as College priorities.  We’ve been successful in holding that line, but some Board members and some current candidates oppose any roll back and seek to collect every dollar available from property taxpayers and to be all things to all people.  That’s unfair to taxpayers and shows an unwillingness to set budget priorities.

Laura Smith-Everett

Property valuations have been going up across Johnson County in recent years — which means that taxing entities have seen tax revenues they receive from local residents rising as well. What’s your philosophy on setting property tax rates when property values go up? Should the board be looking to reduce the mill levy in such situations?

Readers should be reminded that community colleges and their enrollment run counter cyclical to the economy.  In other words, when the economy is good community colleges typically see a drop in enrollment as JCCC is now.  When the economy takes a downturn, community college enrollment increases. So in general, my ‘philosophy’ for managing the mill levy is when the economy is good (unemployment is down and wages are up) The College should hold the mill levy steady, build up it’s reserves, ensure it’s expenses will be adequately covered in coming years and prepare for lower enrollment.  When all of these criteria are met, and there is predicted to be an excess in funding, the mill levy should absolutely be lowered for property owners.

When the economy takes a down turn and tax payers are more likely to experience tough financial times individually, the college would be prepared to lower the mill levy to bring tax payers needed relief.

Lori Bell

Johnson County is currently one of the lowest taxed counties in the state at 104 out of 105 and also the lowest Mill Levy currently. If the Johnson County Mill Levy was raised by 3 million (to cover JCCC tuition) it would only move Johnson County up to a tie at 103 with Sedgwick County.

The most important element for JCCC is to keep in alignment their reserves with revenues. Current projections say JCCC could be at 44% reserves in 4 years. This is far outside of the ideal 25% reserves. In order to come into alignment, we need to look at building new programs at JCCC, hiring more full time faculty in positions where they are needed, and be open to the consideration of mill levy reductions to continue to make JCCC a value for residents. At current reserves, we should also reconsider any student increases that only add to the reserve projections by going into the general fund.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item three:

One of a community college’s goals is to prepare students for a rapidly evolving job market and to ensure area businesses have access to employees with the skills they need. Do you believe there any gaps between JCCC’s current offerings and the needs of the Johnson County community? If so, what are they and how should the college address them?