Topeka Rep. David Miller, R-Eudora, said Thursday that he has ordered special audits of the 1989 property tax budgets of three cities to determine the effectiveness of mill levy limitations the Legislature imposed because of statewide reappraisal.
Goal of the audits will be to determine whether local units of government were able to pad their budgets or found loopholes to avoid legislative intent in setting their budgets this year.
``I believe that it is time to shed some light on the subject of local government spending,'' Miller said in a statement issued at the Statehouse.
``This will provide an objective review of property tax budgets for three cities, including the various mill levies that are paid by residents of those cities.''
MILLER, CHAIRMAN of the Legislative Post Audit Committee, said one audit will focus on Overland Park and the various taxing districts within that Kansas City suburb that have mill levies that add to the property tax burden, including the Shawnee Mission School District.
The other audit, Miller said, will be a comparison of the tax bills received by property taxpayers in Leavenworth and DeSoto.
He said he selected those three cities for the audit review because they are located within reasonably close proximity of each other, which reduces travel time for the state's auditors, and because tax bills already have been mailed out in the three cities.
The audit committee chairman said the auditors have been instructed to try to find answers to two questions:
To what extent have local units of government levied aggregate property taxes in the reappraisal year, 1989, in excess of the amount levied in 1988?
Did local units of government whose aggregate property taxes were higher in 1989 than in 1988 comply with state laws regarding property tax levies and limitations?
THE LEGISLATURE wrote into the law that local units of government could not raise any more money in 1989 than they did in 1988, but exempted a wide variety of items to allow for cost-of-living increases, such as employer Social Security contributions and contributions to the state's pension program.
However, some legislators have alleged that some cities and counties raised their 1988 budgets to the maximum limit in order to have a cushion for 1989 when reappraisal hit, and found other loopholes to raise their mill levies.
``It would be a mistake to believe that these audits will answer all or even most of the questions being raised due to reappraisal and classification,'' Miller said. ``It will not solve the problems but rather simply provide information.
``I WANTED a special session because I wanted an opportunity to try to help the hardest hit property taxpayers before Dec. 20 (when first-half payments must be made on property taxes). These audits are no substitute for a special session. The people really don't want another study or report. They wanted some action.''
Miller led the call for a special session to deal with increased property taxes experienced by many Kansans as a result of increased valuations placed on their property during the just-completed reappraisal process, and tax shifts as a result of business inventories being removed from taxation and the effects of classification.
Gov. Mike Hayden turned down the call for a special session, saying he didn't know what could be done quickly enough to help people by Dec. 20, but didn't rule out a special session in December if lawmakers come up with specific proposals.
THE SENATE Assessment and Taxation Committee and the House Taxation Committee will hold joint meetings starting Nov. 28 to try to determine what can be done to ease the impact of the tax shifts.
As chairman of the Post Audit Committee, Miller had the authority to order an audit if it doesn't take more than 100 hours of work by auditors to complete. He said the Overland Park, Leavenworth and DeSoto audits won't take that much time.
The audit can be rescinded if five members of the Post Audit Committee inform Miller in writing within five days they do not approve. That is not expected to happen.
Three House members, including Majority Leader Robert H. Miller, R-Wellington, who is not related to David Miller, urged such an audit a week ago.