Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Analysis shows Lawrence has high local tax burden

June 11, 2011


For a moment, consider yourself Joe or Jane Average. You live in an average-priced home and you receive an average wage.

So, what major Kansas city should you live in if you want to pay the least amount of local taxes?

A new set of numbers and an analysis by the Journal-World suggest it is not in either one of the state’s two major university communities. Using numbers compiled by the League of Kansas Municipalities, the Kansas Department of Revenue and the U.S. Census, the analysis found that local taxes in Manhattan and Lawrence were higher than in any other Kansas city of more than 40,000 people, when measured against the average wages paid to full-time workers in each city.

Each year, the League of Municipalities publishes the total property tax rates — the mill levies charged by city governments, county governments, school boards and other miscellaneous taxing agencies — for every city in the state. The Journal-World took those numbers for the 11 cities in the state that have populations of at least 40,000 people. We also gathered sales tax rates for each city, median home prices for each city and the median annual wage for a full-time, 40-hour-per-week worker in the city.

Then, we tried to make sense of it all. Let us walk you through what we found.

Property tax rates

When it comes to the mill levy charged by local governments, Lawrence’s total is the fourth lowest of the 11 cities above 40,000 people.

  1. Overland Park: 113.91 mills

  2. Wichita: 120.55 mills

  3. Salina: 123.14 mills

  4. Lawrence: 123.40 mills

  5. Shawnee: 126.19 mills

  6. Manhattan: 127.57 mills

  7. Lenexa: 129.35 mills

  8. Olathe: 131.09 mills

  9. Topeka: 147.42 mills

  10. Hutchinson: 169.80 mills

  11. Kansas City: 171.89 mills

Home values

How much your home is worth, of course, plays a major factor in how large your property tax bill will be. We used median home values as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. (For you data geeks, we used the five-year estimates that were gathered from 2005 to 2009. They’re the most recent numbers available and also are considered the most reliable because they use the largest sample size.) Lawrence had the fifth highest median home values.

  1. Overland Park: $220,400

  2. Lenexa: $214,200

  3. Shawnee: $196,100

  4. Olathe: $190,300

  5. Lawrence: $168,100

  6. Manhattan: $155,200

  7. Wichita: $108,100

  8. Salina: $104,500

  9. Kansas City: $93,100

  10. Topeka: $91,300

  11. Hutchinson: $84,900

Sales taxes

When Lawrence voters approved a trio of sales tax increases in 2008, the city’s total sales tax rate rose to become the fourth highest of the 11 large cities. (Note: These rates don’t include special taxing districts that some cities allow. For instance, Kansas City has 11 special taxing districts, which allow up to 10.02 percent in sales tax to be charged in some areas. Lawrence has two special taxing districts that charge 9.85 percent)

  1. Wichita: 7.3 percent

  2. Hutchinson: 8.05 percent

  3. Salina: 8.2 percent

  4. Manhattan: 8.55 percent

  5. Overland Park: 8.65 percent

  6. Olathe: 8.65 percent

  7. Shawnee: 8.775 percent

  8. Lawrence: 8.85 percent

  9. Lenexa: 8.9 percent

  10. Kansas City: 8.925 percent

  11. Topeka: 8.95 percent

Median wages

Taxes are kind of relative. A tax bill of $500 isn’t nearly as painful to someone who makes $100,000 a year as it is to someone who makes $20,000 a year. Again, we used the American Community Survey to find median wages for workers in each city. We know that some wage figures for university towns end up looking really low because of the number of students who either don’t work or get paid very little to work. So we used a number that measures the median average annual wage for a male, full-time, year-round worker. That’s our best effort to factor out the student effect. (We used the male number instead of the female because the margin of error was lower for the male data. For some reason, the Census doesn’t average the two together for us.) Lawrence was right in the middle of the pack when it comes to full-time wages.

  1. Overland Park: $63,675

  2. Lenexa: $57,584

  3. Olathe: $57,366

  4. Shawnee: $55,530

  5. Wichita: $43,996

  6. Lawrence: $40,572

  7. Topeka: $40,260

  8. Hutchinson: $38,647

  9. Salina: $37,589

  10. Manhattan: $36,416

  11. Kansas City: $36,224

Totaling it up

Here’s what we did to try to make sense of this. We figured how much a person who lives in an average-priced home would pay in property taxes in each city. Then we assumed that person would spend $5,200 a year on groceries (don’t get hung up on the number — we just needed something to compare), and we figured the sales tax on those purchases for each community. Lawrence has the fifth-highest tax bill.

  1. Wichita: $1,498 property, $379 sales = $1,877 total

  2. Salina: $1,479, property, $426 sales = $1,905 total

  3. Topeka: $1,547 property, $465 sales = $2,012 total

  4. Hutchinson: $1,657 property, $418 sales = $2,075 total

  5. Kansas City: $1,840 property, $464 sales = $2,304 total

  6. Manhattan: $2,276 property, $444 sales = $2,720 total

  7. Lawrence: $2,385 property, $460 sales = $2,845 total

  8. Shawnee: $2,845 property, $456 sales = $3,301 total

  9. Olathe: $2,868 property, $449 sales = $3,317 total

  10. Overland Park: $2,887 property, $449 = $3,336 total

  11. Lenexa: $3,186 property, $462 sales = $3,648 total

Relativity test

As we mentioned before, taxes are relative. So we took the totals from above and compared them with the average wage totals for each city. Then we expressed the result as a percent. The lower the percentage, the less tax burden a person has. This is where Lawrence started to fall below average. (Note: Don’t make too much of the actual percentages. They are highly dependent on the assumption that the average person only spends $5,200 on taxable sales. That’s likely low. What’s meaningful, we hope, is how the communities rank compared with one another.)

  1. Wichita: 4.2 percent

  2. Topeka: 4.9 percent

  3. Salina: 5.0 percent

  4. Overland Park: 5.2 percent

  5. Hutchinson: 5.3 percent

  6. Olathe: 5.7 percent

  7. Shawnee: 5.9 percent

  8. Lenexa: 6.3 percent

  9. Kansas City: 6.3 percent

  10. Lawrence: 7.0 percent

  11. Manhattan: 7.4 percent

Make what you will of the numbers. But don’t ponder any of it too long. The city, the county and the school district’s tax rates all will change soon enough. All three governments will discuss their tax needs as part of their budgeting processes that will run throughout the summer.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 10 months ago

US Housing Crisis Is Now Worse Than Great Depression

by: Jeff Cox Staff Writer Published: Tuesday, 14 Jun 2011 | 12:04 PM ET

It's official: The housing crisis that began in 2006 and has recently entered a double dip is now worse than the Great Depression.

Prices have fallen some 33 percent since the market began its collapse, greater than the 31 percent fall that began in the late 1920s and culminated in the early 1930s, according to Case-Shiller data.

The news comes as the Federal Reserve considers whether the economy has regained enough strength to stand on its own and as unemployment remains at a still-elevated 9.1 percent, throwing into question whether the recovery is real.

"The sharp fall in house prices in the first quarter provided further confirmation that this housing crash has been larger and faster than the one during the Great Depression," Paul Dales, senior economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, wrote in research for clients.

According to Case-Shiller, which provides the most closely followed housing industry data, prices dropped 1.9 percent in the first quarter, a move that the firm interpreted as a clear double dip in prices.

Moreover, Dales said prices likely have not completed their downturn.

"The only comfort is that the latest monthly data show that towards the end of the first


George Lippencott 2 years, 10 months ago

Hey merrill

Raise taxes and solve all problems


Richard Heckler 2 years, 10 months ago

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


Richard Heckler 2 years, 10 months ago

Our city's current budget crunch could easily be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments. The community is way over extended in this regard.

If reckless residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of residential you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality.

Reckless growth has been rightly blamed for many things: destroying green space, increasing air and water pollution, fracturing our neighborhoods and poorly designed NEW streets forcing us to drive for every chore.

But there is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned - reckless growth is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

We've subsidized reckless growth at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of reckless growth developers.

Reckless growth wastes tax money. Can we say NO to upcoming tax dollar assistance from our local tax dollar moochin Chamber and their partners in moochin aka reckless growth developers.


Doppleganger 2 years, 10 months ago

The other Berkeley of the midwest. Liberal California is flat busted broke. Why not Lawrence.


MyName 2 years, 10 months ago

I don't get all the vitriolic comments about a 1-2% difference between tax burdens in Lawrence and those in Topeka or KC. Another interesting point is that when it got whittled down the article only compared male incomes (see Median Wages) which would also skew the relative differences since Lawrence has much fewer blue collar jobs than Topeka or KC.


unite2revolt 2 years, 10 months ago

Its really just a matter of supply and demand. Lawrence offers a place to live and there are people that want to live here, those people are willing to pay higher taxes to keep the community the way they want and keep undesirables from moving into the neighborhood. If you want to pay lower taxes by all means feel free to live somewhere else, like Topeka or Salina. You get what you pay for in the end, but people griping about how the taxes are too high is just buyers remorse.


rockchalk1977 2 years, 10 months ago

It's no coincidence the two college towns in Kansas have the highest percentages. Both are infested with liberal Democrats, socialists and commie pinkos.


Kontum1972 2 years, 10 months ago

why a library..everyone is using Kindle..thats more cool that a stinking bldg.


monkeyhawk 2 years, 10 months ago

George - the first one hurts the most!

IMHO, the reason taxes, properties, cost of living is higher in college towns is because they are not only liberal strongholds, they are run by ideological academics, either overtly or covertly. These academics see the cities as petri dishes for their experimentation and theory. witness merrill's favorite spam subject.


George Lippencott 2 years, 10 months ago

Wow, after over 3000 posts I have been nailed for being inappropriate. Since the post is gone, I have no idea what I wrote. So, I apologize for violating the rules and for whatever hurt I caused Mr/Mrs. SlowPlay.


jayhawklawrence 2 years, 10 months ago

I think lawrence is also unique in the fact that so many people drive to kc to work. That is a big expense not calculated in this analysis.


notaubermime 2 years, 10 months ago

I think it was a fairly admirable attempt to weed-out the effect of college students in this analysis, but with Manhattan and Lawrence taking the two top spots in tax burden by a fair margin, it is fairly obvious they failed (or at least it should be obvious). I have a couple of ideas as to why:

First, their exclusive criteria only minimizes the effect of low-earning students. Even if they had succeeded in eliminating 75% of the students with those criteria, that still leaves a sizable portion of those communities workforces.

Second, students need stuff, cheap stuff. Students can be a major economic driver in Lawrence and Manhattan, but the jobs that are benefiting from them are low income jobs. Even if students are not the ones working those jobs, somebody will and those incomes will bring down the average.

Finally: property values. Lawrence's property values are 4.14 times the average annual income. Manhattan is even higher at 4.26. The other cities? Overland Park - 3.46, Lenexa - 3.72, Shawnee - 3.53, Olathe - 3.32. Wichita - 2.46, Salina - 2.78, Kansas City - 2.57, Topeka - 2.27, Hutch - 2.20. If you look at the actual mills, Lawrence and Manhattan tax at a low to average rate. What sets them apart is that their property values are so far beyond their income. My guess is that part of this comes from income deflation by having so many college students, but another reason is that renting houses to college students is driving up prices.

It just costs more to live in a college town. Surprise, surprise.


witchfindergeneral 2 years, 10 months ago

Interesting article. I'm kind of surprised our friend Liberty_One has yet to comment on this piece. Maybe reading this literally made his head explode.


BlackVelvet 2 years, 10 months ago

High Liberal-leaning population equals high taxes.


Scott Morgan 2 years, 10 months ago

Tax breaks = two words The Legends.


ksriver2010 2 years, 10 months ago

At first I read the headline and a couple of the points and I responded "Duh!" Lawrence does have very high sales taxes, property taxes, gas prices, and I believe that there is also a higher local minimum "living" wage, which drives up prices. And, as several have already posted, many people would even welcome more taxes to fund other stuff. But, looking at the data above, the numbers don't add up. West Lawrence is a bedroom community for Topeka, and the wages are not good (state workers). Median wages are skewed because so many people live here but don't work here (or would that be correctly displayed on census info?). Another example of census info used for the wrong reasons. And why I refuse to answer anything on the census except number of people in household, gender, and ages.


rhd99 2 years, 10 months ago

If I am missing something, please tell me. I noticed that gas prices are higher here in Lawrence than in Topeka. Why?


jmadison 2 years, 10 months ago

Including the cost for water and sewer for each city would also have been helpful, as one could consider these fees as part of the tax structure of each city.


Scott Morgan 2 years, 10 months ago

A mover and shaker Missourian and good friend is in the market and real estate often reminds me his group doesn't even consider investing in Douglas County. He claims over regulated and "cousin" deals make it very difficult to earn money.

I'm sure the Olive Garden folks see it this way.

From personal experience when building a home on acreage. We had planned on putting a tiny one bedroom (-500 sq. ' ) efficiency apartment in our garage. Ironically just in case the economy turned south and a relative needed a temp. place to live. It did in both cases.

Long story short, was told to cease buidling it or the entire home would not pass inspection. A few months later noticed another individual who works for the city did just what we wished. No there was no mention of anything extra on the posted permit.


bobberboy 2 years, 10 months ago

P.S. That is unless you post again ?


bobberboy 2 years, 10 months ago

does anyone know why you can't see your own posts on LJ World ?


kernal 2 years, 10 months ago

That $168,100 median home value is now $154,000 to $155,000. No wonder we can't move real estate in this town. Some people owe more than what their house is now worth. Very painful.

I sure would like to hear a seasoned realtor's take on this. Truth or dare?


Keith Richards 2 years, 10 months ago

I agree with the premise that Lawrence taxes are higher than most similar or larger sized communities. However, how many of the cities with lower taxes would someone really prefer to live in over Lawrence? Immediately I would cross of Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City, KS, Salina, and Hutchinson.

In order to really make sense of these numbers you would have to compare what those taxes and cost of living get you. Quality of Education, Quality of Life, Crime, Healthcare, Transportation, Arts, things to do (KU games, etc), Recreation, Night Life, etc.


sunny 2 years, 10 months ago

Don't forget that awsome empty "T" and that glorious empty Library we will soon have!


shawn1040 2 years, 10 months ago

I'm SO glad I left Lawrence! Fishers, Indiana(suburb of Indianapolis) is way better! 7% sales tax is awesome!!


jayhawklawrence 2 years, 10 months ago

Excellent and thought provoking article.


slowplay 2 years, 10 months ago

"Taxes are the price we pay for civilization." Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

I love Lawrence, I'm proud to live here and will continue to support this community through taxation and volunteerism.


BigPrune 2 years, 10 months ago

More taxes need to be raised, much more taxes. Please raise our taxes!!!!

It's all about our "quality of life."


Don Brennaman 2 years, 10 months ago

Why is gas $.20 cents higher in Lawrence than Topeka? Why do I get $.20 cents more per pound for my aluminum cans in Topeka than I get in Lawrence?


George Lippencott 2 years, 10 months ago

Thank you Chad for a well written and comprehensive article. It is a shame that our tax at all cost hoard avoids anything that suggests their opponents might have a case.


bobberboy 2 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence should have a high tax rate - it's a great place to live !! If you don't like it you can always move.


Flap Doodle 2 years, 10 months ago

The government needs more money to support the takers. Give generously, citizens.


somebodynew 2 years, 10 months ago

While a well written article, this should have been a Rock Chalk, Duh !!!!

All you have to do is live here for a little and do normal travelling and you can figure it out. Nice to see the numbers, though.


jafs 2 years, 10 months ago

This is not news at all.

The costs of living in Lawrence have always been high relative to the average wages here.

Some of this has to do with the bedroom community factor - people live here and work somewhere else where they can get higher wages, and/or live elsewhere where costs of living are lower and work here.


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