Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2001

Mill levies and appraisals pushing property taxes up

August 2, 2001

Mary L. Welch suspected four months ago that her taxes were going up on the three-bedroom home she shares with her daughter, Coy Lowe.

When Welch received her latest valuation notice from the Johnson County Appraiser's Office in March, she learned the house's appraised valuation had increased by $10,000. The home she and her late husband, Vernon, built on West 84th Terrace 30 years ago for about $25,000 now appraised at $101,000.

The reappraisal assured Welch a tax increase unless the city, county and school district reduced their mill levies to account for the higher assessment. As the jurisdictions prepared their budgets for publication during the past few weeks, it became apparent that wasn't going to happen.

Higher mill levies coupled with her home's reappraisal will increase Welch's property tax bill by $205 next year. That's enough to concern the fixed-income senior.

"I can do it, but it's getting to where it hurts," she said. "Is it going to stop? The school is going to ask for another big bond issue."

It doesn't appear increases in valuations are going to slow, county appraiser Paul Welcome said. Higher appraised values reflect a strong housing market, one that continues to prosper despite the slow down in the national economy.

After a dip in the early months of the year, Johnson County home sales rebounded in June, posting 62 more sales than the same month a year ago, Welcome said.

"Johnson County home sales continue to flourish," he said. "People continue to find it an attractive place to live, and that's a positive thing."

The sale of new homes drives the need for new schools, a need that forced the most noticeable increase in this year's local mill levy. De Soto school district deputy superintendent Sharon Zoellner told the school board last week that the recent financing of projects approved in the 1999 bond issue will push the district's 2001-2002 property tax levy to 73.11 mills, a five mill increase from the 2000-2001.

Local taxpayers can't look to other local taxing jurisdictions for relief from the school district's higher mill levy. Published budgets only establish total expenditure amounts. Mill levies won't be determined until the Johnson County Clerk's office gets final assessment numbers in September.

In a search for revenue for needed capital improvements, the De Soto City Council decided to set its overall 2002 mill levy at 24.869 mills, basically the same as this year's level. The city's overall mill levy increased in part because of the addition of a full-time firefighter position, but city residents living in the fire district aren't subject to the fire protection levy. Consequently, their levy will actually decrease slightly. The same residents will get an even bigger break because the fire district reduced its property tax levy from the 2001 level of 5.141 mills to 4.906 mills.

A similar scenario prevented De Soto residents from enjoying the slight mill levy decrease the Johnson County Commission put in the county's overall budget. The overall decrease was accomplished through a .5 mill reduction in the Johnson County Wastewater District's levy, which doesn't include De Soto. The combined mill levies of the county's three districts that do the county general fund, library district and parks and recreation district will increase from a 2001 level of 19.979 mills to 20.405 next year.

Johnson County Commission Chairman Doug Wood said additional revenue for parkland acquisition explains much of the increase.

An anticipated report from a citizen's advisory group might suggest ways to relieve the property tax burden on county business and homeowners, Wood said.

"I'm hopeful the Infrastructure Advisory Committee will suggest changes that will make us a little less dependent on property taxes and make a little more use of user fees, long-term debt financing and sales taxes," he said.

That said, he admitted next year would be a challenge. The county faces the need to staff an adult community corrections facility, fund an enlarged county commission, remodel the county administration building and, possibly, participate in the construction of a new downtown parking garage in Olathe.

Finally, the Johnson County Community College's published budget maintained its mill levy at this year's level of 7.646 mills.

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