At the May 15 city commission meeting, a discussion arose concerning methods of funding proposed increases in police and fire department staffing. City Manager Mike Wildgen noted that the money could come from either an increase in property taxes or a -cent increase in the city sales tax. In response, Commissioner Bob Schumm indicated he was inclined toward the sales tax increase. The sales tax increase "makes sense," he claimed.
Does it make sense? It seems to me that the owner of several restaurants has a greater stake in police and fire departments than a person who doesn't even own a home. It follows that property taxes are a more appropriate source of funding these departments.
These days, property taxes are anathema to Kansas politicians, and this apparently includes Lawrence city commissioners. However, a sober analysis of the subject reveals that property values in the state had not been reappraised for some time, and therefore property owers were not paying their fair share of taxes. Unfortunately, this fact has been overshadowed by the astonishing ineptness of the Hayden administration to effectively carry out the reappraisal and reclassification process. Nevertheless, the basic concept of reappraisal and reclassification is fair.
Fairness: Sales taxes are regressive; that is, they take a larger proportion of money from those least able to afford it. The current proposal is to increase the sales tax another -cent on the dollar, raising an estimated $2.7 million. Since the city only needs $1.4 million for the staffing increases, Commissioner Schumm suggests that the remainder could be used for providing (of all things) property tax relief!
A sense of responsibility tells us that from those to whom much is given, much is expected; with wealth and talent come greater responsibility. A sense of justice tells us that those who already have difficulty making ends meet should not be burdened with more taxes.
An increase in police and fire department staffing is well overdue, and I commend the authors of the public safety report for making that recommendation. But let the funding come from property taxes. It's logical and it's just. During the last decade, the tax burden has shifted heavily onto the shoulders of those least able to carry it. Let's hope the city commissioners don't continue this trend.