Prairie Village council candidates on the issues: Views on minor property tax reduction proposal

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 candidates running for city council in Prairie Village.

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

In recent years, property values in Prairie Village have increased substantially, meaning property tax revenues have gone up as well. Given the increased property tax revenues the city has seen, the city’s finance committee recommended a slight mill levy reduction during this year’s budgeting process. The council ultimately rejected that recommendation, and instead held the property tax rate steady. Do you agree with the decision not to lower the property tax rate? Why or why not?

City Council Ward 2

Inga Selders

When I first heard that the city’s finance committee had suggested a slight reduction on the mil levy rate, I was open to the idea. However, after l learned more and saw the numbers, it was evident that the savings per family was not very significant, and this reduction equated to putting a small band-aid on a gaping wound.

Skyrocketing property taxes are unfortunately not just a problem here in Prairie Village; they are a problem throughout Johnson County as well as other communities throughout Kansas. I believe this issue must be addressed at the state level, and it must be addressed immediately.

I have spent a significant amount of time researching how other states have addressed skyrocketing property taxes and have found some great models that I believe our state could build off of. The most promising of these models puts a cap on both the year-over-year rise in property taxes as well as the mil levy rate, which has brought significant financial relief to residents.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. These models are wonderful roadmaps for us to follow. I will do all I can to push for our representatives to research and then draft a similar proposition here in Kansas. I encourage readers to research this further and then reach out to our County and State representatives as well.

I am also looking forward to the information obtained from the housing study that will be carried out by the United Community Services of Johnson County. This should give us a clearer picture of the housing needs and challenges in our community as well as throughout Johnson County.

Serena Schermoly (incumbent)

Did not respond.

City Council Ward 3

Lauren Wolf

I agreed with holding the mill rate steady, but the City should always work to push excess revenues back to residents. Property taxes are currently one of the biggest stressors for our residents (particularly long-time residents), but the City only controls about 15% of our property tax bill—most of it goes to Shawnee Mission School District and the County. Thus, the proposed reduction would have provided only a modest (about $25-$40) reduction on property tax bills. And unfortunately, Kansas law makes it very difficult to reverse a reduction, which could create unnecessary budgetary risk. A solution like property assessment caps should ultimately be forged at the county level, but given some of the uncertainty regarding commercial tax revenues, the City cannot rely on a county-wide solution anytime soon.

Instead, the City should find ways to invest excess revenue deliberately to support the homeowners that need it most, while providing an enhancement to the entire community. One item that holds a lot of promise is an expansion and refinement of our current Exterior Grant Program. This program provides a 20% rebate (up to $2,500) for exterior facing projects, but it is underfunded, underutilized, and excludes many homeowners that could benefit from it. The beauty of this program is that it not only incentivizes investment and improvement of our community, but if appropriately prioritized, it can also provide meaningful help for homeowners under financial strain.

Finally, as your Councilwoman, I will be responsible and candid regarding what PV can actually do to provide meaningful tax relief to residents. I am committed to continuously reviewing the budget and tax levels to ensure the City is prioritizing smart investments while minimizing the burden to residents.

Bonnie Limbird

I would support the right targeted and significant tax relief proposal for our Prairie Village residents. The proposed reduction in May was a savings is $3.34 per month for the “average” household home appraisal; less for the 75% of PV homes under the average, bringing it into the $2.00 per month relief range. Whether to reduce or maintain the mill levy rate is obviously a tough decision. Finance committee members have each dedicated countless hours to understanding the budget, talking with staff and the city attorney, and numerous meetings, and EVEN THEY were split on this proposal.

But, I am up to the challenge. I look forward to being elected to Council and assigned to the Finance committee. My project management background within the design and construction industry has been all about building multi-million dollar budgets, value engineering, and meeting the final budget at the end of the project. So I plan to dig into the City’s budget, listen and learn from the current committee members and staff, ask lots of questions, talk more with Ward 3 residents, and then make an informed recommendation on how to provide targeted and significant tax relief to our City.

City Council Ward 5

David Morrison

I support Mayor Mikkelson and Finance Committee Chairman Dan Runion in their recommendation to LOWER the city property tax rate.

The 2020 Recommended Budget met the funding level recommendations of all City departments and the Police Pension Board, and in one instance even exceeded a department request.

The 2020 Recommended Budget (voted against by my opponent) also provided funding to all but one of the ‘Decision Package’ (“wish list’) from various members of the City Council. Significantly, it included both a $500,000 reserve for emergencies and unplanned major expenditures, and maintenance of a minimum General Fund balance of $5.1 million to meet working capital needs between semi-annual real property tax settlements and to avoid short-term borrowing to finance operations – AND included a reduction of the City’s property tax rate. (Source: June 6, 2019 City Council Packet)

The City is not at risk of decreases in revenues resulting from economic downturns. History shows that City reserves are more than adequate. After a $640,000 combined revenue decrease experienced in 2009 and 2010 there remained in the City’s General Fund balance at the end of 2010 more than $4.6 million or roughly 7 times the total revenue decrease in 2009 and 20010. My opponent voted against a budget which included a $5.1 million minimum balance for the General Fund which included a property tax decrease.

City revenues are up 30% from 2009 through 2017 while inflation is up 16% for the same period. In short, City revenues have outpaced general inflation over almost 10 years by a nearly 2 to 1 rate. More recently, in the period from 2014 through 2018 annual revenue has increased $4 million and expenditures have increased to match. Revenues are anticipated to rise again in 2019 and 2020. We already have an excess surplus and are projected to have a major excess surplus going forward. (Source: June 6, 2019 City Council Packet)

Property taxes in Prairie Village are at an all-time high. Our current surplus should not be held absent of a designated purpose. If at some point the city should decide to pursue a major capital campaign (with voter consent) for something like a community center another increase in the property tax would cause undue hardship on residents. Therefore a property tax rollback is warranted.

Courtney McFadden (incumbent)

While the property tax revenues in Prairie Village have risen, our infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, water channels, etc.) needs have also continued to rise. Prairie Village is trying to both catch up for past years when the city was not able to spend as much in this category, as well as get on top of our aging infrastructure in the city. Despite recent efforts of increased spending on our roads, we are still seeing that when our roads get to the poor category, they are going to remain untreated for several years. The roads in the poor quality have significant issues, which also makes them unsafe for implementing the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that we have been working so hard for in recent years. The city is also continuing to struggle with how to fund various water abatement issues with the recent changes in county SMAC programs which have been vital with the increased occurrences of intense storms. Because of all of these reasons, I feel like when the city was looking to decrease the tax burden by one mill (or around $40 annually per household) we should instead look to continue to invest that money in our ongoing efforts in infrastructure.

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

Over the past year, the City has considered measures related to social issues, including a resolution voicing objection to discrimination against women and an ordinance that offers legal protections to LGBTQ+ individuals. Do you believe such measures should be in the purview of City government? Why or why not?