Johnson County sticks it to taxpayers — again

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Johnson County sticks it to taxpayers — again

By Dave Trabert

A June 4 press release from Johnson County once again demonstrates county officials’ propensity to stick it to residents.

“The county manager’s proposed budget includes what would be the first mill levy increase since 2006.” This pull-the-wool-over-taxpayers’-eyes attitude is how local government has tried to pretend that they weren’t raising property taxes. The truth is that Johnson County property taxes increased 132 percent between 1997 and 2013 according to the Kansas Department of Revenue. That’s just the county portion of property tax; cities and schools districts are not included.

People pay their taxes with dollars, not mill rates. Government should be honest with taxpayers and talk about how much tax dollars are increasing each year but they are loathe to do so. (FYI, thanks to new legislation just passed, beginning July 1 local governments will have to take a public vote to increase tax dollars by more than inflation.)

Now here’s the “again” part.

County Manager Hannes Zacharias is quoted in the release saying that the partial loss of mortgage registration tax “creates a structural imbalance in our on-going budget and, therefore, needs to be addressed with a commensurate increase in property tax revenue.” No, Mr. Zacharias, it doesn’t need to be addressed with a property tax increase … that’s just what you are choosing to do according to your own budget documents.

Here’s a hat tip to my eagle-eyed friend Luke Bell at the Kansas Association of Realtors for pointing this out in the Johnson County budget. He says, “… ad valorem property tax revenues are projected to increase from $169.7 million in 2014 to $186.5 million in 2015, which is a 9.9% increase. In dollars, this is an increase of $16.8 million. According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department, Johnson County is only supposed to lose $1.7 million in mortgage registration tax revenue. Even by Johnson County’s own flawed analysis of the bill, they are only budgeted to lose $3.9 million in mortgage tax revenue in 2015.”

The county even admits in its press release that $10.3 million of the property tax increase comes from increased valuation in property. Johnson County could more than cover the decline in mortgage registration tax without raising the mill levy, but government is not about to pass up an opportunity to blame legislators for something they are choosing to do. (Another new piece of legislation is phasing out a discriminatory tax on people who take out mortgages to buy a house; those who can afford to pay cash pay no tax.)

Johnson County could choose to operate more efficiently. After all, it’s hard to imagine that a 132 percent property tax increase was really necessary. But quite the opposite, county officials are hiring more staff for the Parks & Recreation District, the Library District and the County Taxing District.

That’s a whole lot of entitlement mentality.