Scott: The rising cost of the good life
I’m not angry and I’m not complaining. It is also not my intention to rant. I like living here. I like all the amenities, services and conveniences of residing in a city where I enjoy a quality of life that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere. However, the cost of living in this idyllic community comes with a price.
Last February I received a notice from the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office that amounted to sticker shock. The county increased the appraised value of my property by what I believed to be an excessive amount. An appeal to the county through the appeal process yielded no relief. I was told by the county appraiser that a major factor in the revaluation was a big increase in the value of the lot my house sits on. “Why?” I queried. “Because they’re not making any more land,” was his perfunctory reply.
My next step was to appeal to the Kansas State Board of Appeals, which resulted in a net reduction in the valuation of my property of .04 percent. I did not pop the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate my newfound unrealized gain in the form of higher taxes.
I suppose some homeowners would welcome the increase in the value of their property. If they plan to sell their home anytime soon they will undoubtedly use this as leverage to command a higher price. But my plan is to stay put until I assume room temperature. (Admittedly, that may not be God’s plan, but I hope He respects my wishes.) So in the meantime I don’t want to pay more to live here. And for households living on a fixed income, an annual rise in property taxes can eventually become unsustainable.
I offer myself as an example. I have not received an increase in my KPERS (State of Kansas) pension since I retired more than 10 years ago. In November I received a letter from the Social Security Administration advising me that, “Your benefit will stay the same in 2016.” And the gyrations of the stock market do not fill me with confidence that my investments are in a safe harbor for future drawdowns.
Last August the other shoe dropped with a thud when the Johnson County Commission approved for the 2016 budget an increase of 3.3 mills in the mill levy, from 23.27 to 26.57 mills. This represents a 14 percent increase. The county is quick to remind residents that this is the first increase in property taxes since 2006. Still, it’s a pretty big pill to choke down all at one time. The increased revenue will go to support public transportation, the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, and the Johnson County Library system.
To illustrate the impact to homeowners, the county uses the mythical $261,000 home. Under this scenario, the homeowner would pay an additional $99.05 a year in property taxes, or $8.25 more a month. But if the county had earlier raised the value of that property, a subsequent hike in the mill levy compounds the property tax burden – in other words, a double whammy.
In addition to Johnson County government, my property taxes support an assortment of governmental entities: the State of Kansas, Johnson County Community College, and Unified School District 512. When the dust kicked up by this government rodeo finally cleared, my 2015 property taxes went up nearly 10 percent.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. I am benefiting from the lower price of gasoline and a low inflation rate. But when those costs inevitably rise, I doubt that the tax rate I am obliged to pay will not correspondingly drop.
In summary, let’s review a few things that have added to the cost of living for Shawnee residents in 2015:
• Johnson County increased the mill levy rate by 3.3 mills, or 14 percent. An increase in the appraised value of real estate compounds this tax liability.
• The Kansas Legislature increased the state sales tax rate from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. But the 2015 Legislature didn’t stop there. They also eliminated all itemized deductions except for charitable contributions, mortgage interest and property taxes. This they did with a final insult: Deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes were reduced to 50 percent.
• In 2014 Shawnee voters approved a new 3/8 cent sales tax to be used for maintenance and improvements to city streets, curbs and sidewalks, effective April 1 of 2015. (This was in addition to the renewal of a 1/8 cent sales tax for “Parks and Pipes,” dedicated to improving the city’s parks and trails and improving the stormwater drainage system.)
• The Kansas Corporation Commission approved a Kansas City Power and Light rate increase of 7.5 percent. This was the seventh increase in 10 years.
Johnson County can still boast that it maintains the lowest county taxing district mill levy in Kansas, but the county ranks in the top one-third of Kansas’ 105 counties in combined state and county sales taxes charged, while the City of Shawnee ranks in the top 3 percent of combined state, county and local sales taxes assessed by Kansas towns and cities. One way or another, government will always find a way to exact its pound of flesh. Okay, I get that. I know we need to pay taxes to support vital government functions, services and infrastructure. I have no doubt that most people who make Shawnee their home enjoy the good life. My question is, how much more is the good life going to cost us?
Again, I’m not angry and I’m not complaining. But I am concerned. I just hope the property tax notice I receive this year does not leave me apoplectic. I’m bracing for another sticker shock.