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Archive for Saturday, December 8, 1990

S HIGH COURT DISMISSES LAWSUIT ON VEHICLE TAXES

December 8, 1990

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— Saying the proper forum is at the district court level, the state Supreme Court dismissed on Friday a lawsuit brought by a Johnson County couple seeking to force refunds on 1990 motor vehicle taxes paid in 77 Kansas counties, including Douglas County.

The suit can be refiled in district court in any one of those counties, but Friday's action means the Supreme Court will not hear the case directly.

``If the various claims asserted by the plaintiffs have merit, adequate relief appears to be available in the district court,'' Justice Fred N. Six said in a one-sentence explanation of the court's rejection of the lawsuit.

A KANSAS CITY law firm filed the suit Nov. 29 on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Jerry S. Dean of Prairie Village. They sought to have it certified as a class action suit on behalf of all people who had paid 1990 taxes on motor vehicles in 77 of the state's 105 counties.

Those are counties in which the assessed valuation of property rose between 1988 and 1989, and the mill levies should have been lowered but were not because the suit alleges the states improperly instructed the counties to use 1988 mill levies.

Lawrence resident Bus Zook, who has been active in statewide protests against the system of taxing motor vehicles, said he expected the Supreme Court's action.

"The Supreme Court didn't engage in any merits of the case," Zook said today. "They just said it should be handled by a lower court instead of shooting it straight up to them."

Zook said the principals involved in the suit should decide sometime at the beginning of the week where to refile the suit. Much of the decision, he said, will be based on docket loads in the various counties.

ASKED WHETHER the suit would be filed in Douglas County District Court, Zook responded, "I can't say yes, I can't say no."

A Supreme Court rule allows the law firm, Niewald, Waldeck & Brown, represented by Kenton C. Granger, Lisa A. Dunbar and Raymond L. Dahlberg, to file the lawsuit in any of the 77 counties where the alleged over-taxation occurred.

In the suit, the firm claimed the counties should be forced to refund more than $60 million in tax overcharges on motor vehicles, including $30.5 million in Johnson County, $6.7 million in Sedgwick County, $4.3 million Shawnee County, $4.2 million in Wyandotte County, $2.2 million in Douglas County, $1.2 million in Leavenworth County, $975,000 in Reno County, $867,000 in Crawford County, $860,000 in Saline County and $780,000 in Butler County.

The suit alleges the state director of property valuation illegally told the counties to use mill levies that were too high to compute property taxes collected this year on motor vehicles.

THE SUIT contends that the counties, at the state's instruction, used 1988 mill levies to compute the 1990 vehicle taxes, when state law required them to use 1989 mill levies.

Because statewide repapraisal of real estate increased the tax bases in the 77 counties, the suit says, their mill levies dropped an average 25 percent between 1988 and 1989, and that is the amount of overcharging that is alleged in the suit.

Mark Burghart, chief attorney for the Revenue Department, said when the suit was filed that the state has used 2-year-old mill levies to figure the taxes on motor vehicles for years. He said that is how long it takes to compute the proper average mill levy in the counties.

However, the suit cites state law that says the mill levy on vehicle taxes must be computed by taking ``the county average tax rate for the next preceding year,'' which would be the year immediately prior to the tax year.

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