Archive for Sunday, May 16, 2010

How Lawrence taxes measure up against cities statewide

May 16, 2010


Taxes are always good for an argument.

Go to some coffee shops in Lawrence, and you’ll likely hear the local sages talk about how high the taxes are in the city. Go hang out at City Hall or some other agency that survives off taxes, and you’ll likely hear how city residents are getting a good value.

But what do the numbers say? Well, you may not like the answer, but it depends on what numbers you look at. So, look at these categories, and you decide how Lawrence measures up.

Low rates

When it comes to property tax rates, Lawrence has the fourth-lowest rate of the large cities in Kansas. Our source for this is a handy publication by the League of Kansas Municipalities. It lists the total property tax mill levy for every city in the state. That means it adds up the property tax rates for everything from the city, the county, the school district (in cities where there is more than one district it is an average) library boards, and other obscure forms of government. We just looked at the 20 cities that have populations of 20,000 or more.

  1. Overland Park: 109.817 mills

  2. Prairie Village: 115.985

  3. Hays: 119.024

  4. Lawrence: 119.050

  5. Wichita: 119.868

  6. Manhattan: 121.022

  7. Shawnee: 121.186

  8. Salina: 122.550

  9. Leawood: 123.372

  10. Lenexa: 124.588

  11. Olathe: 125.343

  12. Liberal: 135.503

  13. Leavenworth: 139.012

  14. Garden City: 143.648

  15. Junction City: 145.138

  16. Topeka: 147.028

  17. Emporia: 154.983

  18. Hutchinson: 165.162

  19. Kansas City: 167.110

  20. Dodge City: 183.773

Moderate housing

The tax rate, though, is only half the equation when it comes to property taxes. The total amount you pay in actual property taxes is determined by the value of your home. There’s no perfect way to measure this for each community, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey did measure the median home value for each community of more than 20,000 people. So here’s a look at the median home value for each city, and then how much the tax bill would be for that average home.

  1. Leawood: $380,800 value; $5,402 taxes

  2. Lenexa: $216,000; $3,094

  3. Overland Park: $223,100; $2,817

  4. Shawnee: $200,100; $2,788

  5. Olathe: $192,600; $2,776

  6. Prairie Village: $204,000; $2,721

  7. Lawrence: $168,700; $2,309

  8. Manhattan: $162,000; $2,254.63

  9. Leavenworth: $126,800; $2,027

  10. Kansas City: $94,300; $1,812

  11. Hays: $127,700; $1,747

  12. Dodge City: $82,500; $1,743

  13. Junction City: $102,500; $1,710

  14. Garden City: $98,400; $1,625

  15. Hutchinson: $84,100; $1,597

  16. Topeka: $93,300; $1,577

  17. Salina: $107,000; $1,507

  18. Wichita: $109,000; $1,502

  19. Emporia: $81,600; $1,454

  20. Liberal: $76,800; $1,196

Low incomes

But here’s an important point about taxes — money is relative. If you make a lot of money, paying a $3,000 tax bill feels different from what it would be if you make a little.

So, we decided to factor average incomes into this equation.

Lawrence always takes a beating in this type of category because the city has many college students with little to no income — so they bring the per capita average down. But the Census Bureau publishes an average income for “full-time, year-round” workers. That takes some of the college factor out of the numbers.

Note that these income numbers are for full-time, year-round, male workers. We’re not trying to be sexist here. It is just that the Census Bureau only provides the information broken down by male and females. To average the two together would take more math than we want to do.

One other note: The Census Bureau must have got tired of counting all the money in Leawood. Its wage figure for Leawood full-time workers was “$100,000 plus.” So take that number for what it is worth.

The first number in the list is the average annual wages. The second number is the percentage of those wages that go toward property taxes.

  1. Manhattan: $39,467 5.7%

  2. Dodge City: $30,207 5.7%

  3. Lawrence: $41,674 5.5%

  4. Leawood: $100,000+5.4%

  5. Lenexa: $59,394 5.2%

  6. Emporia: $28,274 5.1%

  7. Shawnee: $56,212 4.9%

  8. Olathe: $56,000 4.9%

  9. Kansas City: $36,980 4.8%

  10. Hays: $36,112 4.8%

  11. Junction City : $35,242 4.8%

  12. Overland Park:$63,547 4.4%

  13. Hutchinson: $37,357 4.2%

  14. Garden City: $40,180 4.0%

  15. Salina: $37,486 4.0%

  16. Leavenworth: $51,409 3.9%

  17. Prairie Village:$71,324 3.8%

  18. Topeka: $41,116 3.8%

  19. Liberal: $33,041 3.6%

  20. Wichita: $44,406 3.3%


Of course, there are some items the numbers don’t measure well. What type of fire protection does a city provide? Are there a lot or a few retail options? Does the city water taste pure or putrid? Is Mark Twain the most recent author in the city’s library? The list could go on and on. Which, of course, means there always will be room for an argument.


kansasmutt 8 years, 1 month ago

9 of the cities have higher average income earning levels, but yet Lawrence people pay a higher tax rate , by as much as 80% more. That is the important number. Another thing to look at is , What a city has to offer. Lawrence doesnt stack up against 15 of the 20 for entertainment and liveable cities.

parrothead8 8 years, 1 month ago

Agreed, KRichards. I read that statement and almost fell off the couch laughing. Compared to most towns with populations under 100,000, there's plenty to see and do in Lawrence.

Lawrence is a great town. Anybody who doesn't like it is free to move to any of those 15 cities that Lawrence "doesn't stack up against."

geekyhost 8 years, 1 month ago

I get my income from a different city yet choose to commute in order to stay here. Why? Livability. Lawrence has an appeal that other nearby cities do not.

Centerville 8 years, 1 month ago

Need another break out between wages paid by taxes and wages that generate taxes.

geekyhost 8 years, 1 month ago

The wages paid by taxes also generate taxes, since state employees also pay them, and some wages from private employers are low enough to exempt the employee from tax liability.

doc1 8 years, 1 month ago

I would like to see a breakdown of the stupid stuff cities spend the money on. I guarantee Lawrence would be at the top of the list. Replacing already new crosswalks with ones that talk, replacing sidewalks out on Clinton Parkway that look almost new anyway, replacing curbs that are already in good shape, paying $65,000.00 for an ugly piece of artwork to set outside the firestation on Harper. This list could go on for awhile and I'm sure there are many others out there who could add to the list.

tomatogrower 8 years, 1 month ago

While I agree that some parts of town get their roads and sidewalks fixed and others don't, I can't agree with you on the art and the talking crosswalks. Why is it so hard to make it easy for a blind person to get around on their own? Why is art bad? Granted, art is subjective, and you might not like a particular piece, but if taxes didn't go towards art, we wouldn't have had the fountains and other beautiful pieces of city scape art around the world. And do you hate the concerts in the park? It's not your cup of tea? Yet, many people go there for the sense of community and lovely music on a summers night. It creates a lot more for the town than sitting in front of your tv in air conditioning. Many young people I know in other towns are envious that we have a place to take art classes at the Art Center and all kinds of other classes that Parks and Rec offer. Money is even raised to make sure that low income kids get to go. Is this tax money wasted? It think if you really get involved in Lawrence's community you will appreciate the quality of living we have here. Believe me, I've lived other places where I had to pay plenty in taxes, but there wasn't much evidence of getting anything back for it.

leeroy_johnson 8 years, 1 month ago

I can't believe the city allowed that box of rocks to be put up at 6th and mass. What a waste of money. There is a ton of garbage that liters downtown but is called art. You can't make the argument about if there is no art, then there would not be fountains, etc. If the city wants to put art out, do it right, invest some time and money and make something nice. Not this crap they have now.

Adam P Atterson 8 years, 1 month ago

I laughed out loud when I saw that box of rocks. I guess art is subjective, but that one's pretty lame.

Deja Coffin 8 years, 1 month ago

Don't you think the art would be more welcomed if it was donated by an outside person/organization instead of bought by city funds? I agree that art is important but if the above statement of spending $65,000 is correct, then I think it could have been put to other resources first.

gr 8 years, 1 month ago

Agreed. I thought there were artists who would like the opportunity for a place to exhibit box of rocks or whatnot. Art might be pretty, but $65K? Really. Isn't there something better to spend that on such as educating our kids?

George Lippencott 8 years, 1 month ago

The quality of you annual article on local property tax has improved over the time I have been here from a simplistic mil rate comparison to a sophisticated financial comparison that more accurately depicts the comparison. I applaud your efforts.

I wish I could stop there. Unfortunately, you took an additional step and make an adjustment in the Lawrence data. I understand your perception of the presumed bias caused by the transient population here in Lawrence. However, the adjustment you used probably applies to all the communities on the list. I would certainly expect it to significantly affect cities like Manhattan and Emporia. In fact, I would not be surprised if it would not have a noticeable impact on even large communities like Overland Park (not all less than full time male employees are students). When I get the time, I will pull the data and try to generate a more appropriate apples to apples comparison. I am afraid what you did makes our tax rate seem more attractive than it really is.

There is another point that I believe we should consider - the pace at which we raise taxes - all of them. We are undertaking a number of major social initiatives such as renewable energy, universal health care and the like that increase taxes indirectly through fees that increase the cost of specific products. If we do this too fast, the taxpayers cannot adjust and we end up forcing a major hit on the middle class. If this is intentional, we should do it in the open. If not, we should do it more prudently to spread the impact. In this comment, I include the relatively rapid increase in our property taxes over the last several years.

I like the words prudent, measured and shared.

Georgine McHenry 8 years, 1 month ago

Taxes are just too high. The State and City government misuses funds. All they think about is "growth"...not maintenance of what they already have. I've been living here now for over 30 years. I have never made more than $22,000 per year. I manage but it is hard. I live like there is a recession all the time.

George Lippencott 8 years, 1 month ago

Well I suspect that the Corliss memorial recreation center and running path sounds much better on your resume than another day of milling pavement.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 1 month ago

Does each community suffer from an over loaded retail,residential,light industrial and office supply such that Lawrence does?

Over loaded markets are a drag on local economies and local cookie jars.

High dollar retail rent is a drag on new economic growth.

High dollar real estate values can be quite unfriendly to business..... existing and potentially new prospects

================================ This is UNFRIENDLY to business and economic growth:

By Kim McClure

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.

Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence

J Good Good 8 years, 1 month ago

Some people find a lot to complain about in Lawrence. I don't know why they live here. I guess some people just like to bitch.

If you have lived in any other towns in Kansas, your taxes may or may not be lower, but Lawrence has them beat on being a great place to live and raise kids.

It is a real community in the best sense of the word if you get out and enjoy it instead of staying in and bitching about every single online article.

George Lippencott 8 years, 1 month ago

I thought "bitching" was an Americanb passtime

George Lippencott 8 years, 1 month ago

Think I misread Chad. Did he use the average full time workers data for all communities or only Lawrence? Maybe it is apples to apples?

Chad Lawhorn 8 years, 1 month ago

I used it for all communities. Chad Lawhorn Journal-World

George Lippencott 8 years, 1 month ago

Which is the better comparison? The people not in full time positions and women live here and pay taxes here (even renters). Excluding them probably distorts the comparison just as much or maybe more than including them.

Did Chad do the research for this one or was it ghosted with (because I distrust government) malevolent intent??

George Lippencott 8 years, 1 month ago

You know that sometimes the cost iof living (to include taxes) in a jurisdiction makes it hard for public employees and other lower paid professionals to live there

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