A New York couple who owned a rural Douglas County house gutted by fire in January is unhappy with their property tax bill on the destroyed home, but county officials say they're just following state law.
Joseph and Barbara Sabol, West Coxsackie, N.Y., don't think they should pay a full year's property tax on the gutted house. The house, known as "Oak Grove," was located northeast of Lawrence near Grant School. It was destroyed by fire on Jan. 21.
The house, built in 1864, once was owned by the first governor of Kansas and was filmed for the TV movie "Where Pigeons Go to Die" in 1989.
The county lowered the total value of the property from $84,430 to $70,600 during an appeals hearing this summer, wrote Joseph Sabol in a letter that was sent to County Commissioner Mike Amyx and the Journal-World. He called the tax bill he received last month "totally unacceptable" and mentioned that he was returning the bill to the county.
"THERE IS no logical reason why the value of the building portion of the property should be higher than one-twelfth of the January value," Sabol wrote. "This is a value I am willing to accept."
He added that he thought someone at the county level was trying to "exploit the fact that Barbara and I are not currently residing in Kansas."
But Sabol's assertion is not the case, the county appraiser and county administrator say.
Marion Johnson, county appraiser, said the county was following state law in assessing the property. State law provides that any property in existence as of Jan. 1 is subject to assessment and taxation for the full year.
"It doesn't work that way," Johnson said of Sabol's desire to pay one-twelfth of the property taxes.
JOHNSON POINTED out that the Sabol's situation was similar to that of tornado victims in Andover, who were upset that they received tax bills for the full year on homes destroyed by the April 26 storm. He said that the Sabols' tax bill on the property next year "will be treated just as vacant ground."
Sabol also contended that the county had not given him the state's address for appealing the tax bill. Johnson said he was told by his staff that it provided Sabol with the information before Johnson was hired in August.
Efforts to reach the Sabols were unsuccessful.
County Administrator Chris McKenzie said he would like to see a change in the state's law regarding destroyed property. Johnson said an amendment to the law was introduced in the 1991 session of the Kansas Legislature, but nothing was passed.
"Mr. Sabol makes some good arguments, but we're required to follow the law," McKenzie said.