Lenexa City Council wards 3 and 4 candidates on the issues: Property tax

In early June, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Lenexa City Council in wards 3 and 4 address in the lead up to the Aug. 3 primary.

Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Lenexa.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of these five questions. Read the candidates’ responses to previously published questions about affordable housing, the east-west divide and climate change.

Below are the candidates’ responses to item four:

  • Property values have increased sharply across Johnson County in recent years, and Lenexa’s city mill levy (29.242) is higher than in some neighboring cities, like Overland Park (13.557 mills) and Olathe (24.440). Do you see any realistic paths to reducing the amount Lenexa homeowners pay in city property tax? If so, what are they? If not, why not?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:

Ward 3

Melanie Arroyo

Lenexa is a fantastic place to live and work. We shouldn’t have to bribe companies to move here with tax breaks.

But too often, it’s big companies that are lavished with subsidies, rather than small businesses that could really use them. By curbing the development subsidies we are awarding, we can expand our tax base & ensure that homeowners are not bearing most of the burden from property taxes.

After all, what good is all of the new and ongoing development in the city if these new projects don’t give the city much (or any) new tax revenues to pay for the city services they will certainly use (such as: roads, fire, police)?

By being very sparing in our use of corporate subsidies, we can expand our tax base and, over time, reduce the amount that homeowners need to pay for city services.

Corey Hunt

Our Mill Levy in Lenexa is too high. We should lower the Mill Levy and I have voted to lower the Mill Levy for the previous three budgets. We currently have a proposed budget for 2022 which recommends lowering the Mill Levy again this year which I support.

We have enjoyed several years of really good growth in our city. Because of this our financial reserves are such that we should be able to stair-step the Mill Levy down while still being able to maintain superior services and fund our reserves going forward.

Residents tell us in every survey they feel they get great value for their tax dollars. What we learned during COVID is that our recent growth has positioned us well to move forward with confidence knowing the mix of tax revenue commercial and private is such we can continue to give back to our residents.

When I speak to residents they understand where the city tax is and most are satisfied with the value of their property, conditions of their roads, the love they have for the park within walking distance and above all else, they know Police and Fire will be there in (5) minutes or less in those times of need.

There is a lifestyle unique to Lenexans, the community feel, the parks and stream trails, the quality of services rendered to residents and the way the city interacts with her residents, I would say second to none!

Yes, we have a high city tax and we have been bringing it down year after year and I will vote to continue lowering the Mill Levy but one thing is certain – when you look around your neighborhood, when you look around your city, when you see our police and fire teams in action – you see where your tax dollars are being spent.

By the way, how do you feel about our snow-removal teams?! Being able to safely travel on streets after an all-night snow is another example of public safety at its finest and good use of tax dollars.

Laura Hill

Did not respond.

Gael A. Wheeler

Did not respond.

Ward 4

Hophine Bwosinde

According to the 2019 survey of Lenexa Residents

  • 93% said they were satisfied with the overall quality of life in Lenexa, which is significantly higher than the national average of 72%.
  • 89% said they were satisfied with the overall quality of city services, which is significantly higher than the national average of 48%.
  • 96% said Lenexa is a “good” or “excellent” place to live, which is significantly higher than the national average of 71%.
  • 94% said Lenexa is a “good” or “excellent” place to raise children, which is significantly higher than the national average of 70%

Armed with these statistics, it means that Lenexa homeowners are comfortable with the current city property taxes. However, this was before the COVID19 Pandemic. If the city deems fit to vote on a temporary reduction to help homeowners absorb the loss of revenue from the Pandemic, I won’t be in the opposition.

Craig K. Denny

City revenue sources include sales taxes, property taxes, franchise fees, TIF district revenue, fines, grants and other. Of these sources, sales and property taxes are the largest sources, but from city to city, they are not comparable. For example, Overland Park receives more sales tax revenue than Lenexa from retail and auto sources so their property tax mill levy is lower than Lenexa. Conditions are similar with Olathe.

I support the 2022 budget presented to the city council on June 22, which recommends a 1% reduction in the City mil rate to 28.942 mils based on growth of Lenexa’s tax base, while ensuring that Lenexa residents continue to receive high quality services for their very reasonable tax dollars.

According to the 2019 ETC Survey, when asked to rate their “overall value that you receive for your City tax dollars and fees”, 70% of Lenexa respondents indicated they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied”. This compared to a KC Metro response rate of 51% and the U.S. Average response rate of 37%.

As of March 2021, the real property valuation of Lenexa residential property was about 51% of the total valuation and Lenexa Commercial property was about 48%. The remaining 3% was comprised of agricultural, vacant, non-profit and other property. If assessed valuations remain the same year over year, reduction in mill levy should result in reduction in city tax amount. However, the current low inventory of new and existing homes for sale has resulted in higher sale prices. When residential appraised valuations based on comparable sales increase, so will assessed valuations. The increase in assessed valuation may not be offset the decreased mil levy.

On a personal note, I have lived in Lenexa for over 35 years. My home was located in a cul-de-sac, not on a major of even a through-street. Nevertheless, snow removal was always timely and thorough. When I signed up for Vacation House Watch, police officers checked my home daily while I was away. My family enjoyed and relied on the services and amenities of Lenexa. I recently reviewed property tax bills and assessments for my home from 2015 to 2020. Over these years, the dollar amount of my City of Lenexa property tax increased from $1026 to $1108. The value we received far exceeded the annual amounts we paid in city property tax.

Scott Callaway

As you may have noticed on your annual property tax statement, mill levy taxes have increased year over year with the rapid increase in property values. This is a reflection on what a great place Lenexa is to live, raise children and work in.

It’s a circle, the more money we have to spend on public services the more we need to raise taxes for improvements. Good fiscal management is essential to manage this situation. If you want the live in the best city it’s going to cost.

These taxes support public services such as police, fire and schools. It’s an unfortunate fact. However, I’m not in favor of lowering property taxes if it means reduced quality of services, and our public services need to be maintained, with more money for police, fire departments and schools.

One solution could be to incentivize more companies to move to Lenexa which, however the usual method of doing this is by offering tax breaks which defeats the purpose. I believe it comes back to good fiscal management to ensure taxes appropriated are being used equitably across all of Lenexa so that residents can share in the quality of services together.

On Friday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the following question:

Lenexa has experienced considerable growth in recent decades — both in terms of business development and population. What do you see as the biggest challenges on the horizon for the city as it continues to grow? What should city government be doing now to prepare for those challenges?