It never seems like enough, but a decline in local property taxes this year is a step in the right direction.
It CAN happen.
Property taxes CAN go down.
It sometimes seems that taxes only go in one direction: up. But this year, Douglas County taxpayers will get a bit of a break.
Thanks largely to the strong Kansas economy and the Kansas Legislature, the property tax mill levy for Lawrence residents who live in the Lawrence school district will drop by about 12.5 mills this year. The total mill levy for Douglas County, the city of Lawrence and the Lawrence school district will be 98.682 mills, down from 111.194 mills last year.
The city budget is almost level from last year, and the county budget is rising by 1.4 mills to provide funds for some overdue capital improvement projects. All of the mill levy decrease comes from the school district, which is passing along a 7-mill decrease in the state mill levy and cutting its own local option budget by about 6.2 mills. Even with the declines, the school district mill levy is equal to the city and county mill levies combined, so its impact on the property tax rate is obvious.
Of course, the city and county have other sources of revenue that the school district doesn't, and those sources temper the overall effect of the lower property tax levy. At the same time property taxes are going down, sales taxes have been increased and some special fees, such as the city's drainage fee, have been instituted.
Then there's the matter of property valuations. Lawrence is a booming town and property values have risen dramatically in recent years. If property values remained steady, this year's mill levy decline of 11 percent would translate into an 11 percent decline in taxes on a given property. But, of course, it doesn't work that way.
A mill is $1 of property tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. Last year, the owner of a Lawrence home valued at $100,000 paid $1,278.31 in taxes. Assuming an increase of 5 percent in valuation this year -- a average figure in the Lawrence area -- that person would see his or her property taxes drop by only about 6.7 percent to $1,191.58. That's another $86 in the bank, but taxpayers always would like more.
Strong economic times have given Kansas, as well as the rest of the nation, a relatively rare opportunity to curb what often seems to be an ever-climbing demand for taxpayer money to provide public services. This year's decreases may not seem like enough, but they're something, and public officials -- and the tax opponents who keep watch over them -- deserve credit for taking advantage of the chance to trim the property tax levy.