Archive for Saturday, June 16, 2012

How Lawrence stacks up in property taxes

June 16, 2012


April 15 may be the day that frequently gets circled on calendars as tax day, but when it comes to local taxes, the real action happens during the summer season.

Cities, counties and school districts are all now crunching numbers to determine what property tax rates will need to be for the coming year. It is budget time, and there is no shortage of big-ticket items looming that could have major property tax implications.

At Lawrence City Hall, there’s talk of a $30 million police headquarters building, at the Douglas County Courthouse a multimillion-dollar public safety radio replacement program is under discussion, and at the Lawrence school district, leaders have been figuring on a potential bond issue for school improvements. With all that, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at how Lawrence and Douglas County stack up when it comes to matters of property taxes. Here’s a look at several issues, with most numbers coming from a report compiled by the Kansas League of Municipalities:


There are 13 cities in the state of Kansas with population totals of 30,000 people or more. Here’s how Lawrence’s city property tax rate stacks up: (And remember, a mill is $1 in property tax for every, $1,000 of assessed valuation. But don’t worry, we’ll talk about that more in a bit.)

1) Overland Park: 12.814 mills

2) Leawood: 24.393 mills

3) Olathe: 24.689 mills

4) Shawnee: 24.732 mills

5) Salina: 26.272 mills

6) Lawrence: 28.612 mills

7) Lenexa: 29.635 mills

8) Wichita: 32.360 mills

9) Topeka: 32.928 mills

10) Hutchinson: 41.412 mills

11) Manhattan: 42.156 mills

12) Kansas City: 45.267 mills

13) Leavenworth: 49.373 mills


For our county comparison, we look at the five largest counties in the state, plus Riley County, home to Kansas State University.

1) Johnson County: 17.7 mills

2) Sedgwick County: 29.428 mills

3) Riley County: 34.782 mills

4) Douglas County: 35.773 mills

5) Wyandotte County: 36.399 mills

6) Shawnee: 43.165 mills

School districts

When it comes to property taxes, it is a fact school districts are the big players. State law essentially makes property taxes the only funding source available to school districts, while cities and counties both can rely on sales taxes. That makes property taxes for school districts a frequent complaint for property owners. But just how does Lawrence’s school property taxes stack up against other large-city districts? Well, we just happen to have this list:

1) USD 345 Seaman Topeka: 51.237 mills

2) USD 450 Shawnee Heights Topeka: 52.004 mills

3) USD 437 Auburn Washburn Topeka: 53.152 mills

4) USD 512 Shawnee Mission Johnson County: 56.153 mills

5) USD 501 Topeka: 56.307 mills

6) USD 259 Wichita: 57.017 mills

7) USD 203 Piper Kansas City: 57.988 mills

8) USD 497 Lawrence: 59.438 mills

9) USD 500 Kansas City: 68.248 mills

10) USD 202 Turner Kansas City: 69.463 mills

11) USD 233 Olathe: 69.924 mills

12) USD 229 Blue Valley Johnson County: 72.828 mills

Total tax rates

We could make you get out your abacus and add all this up, but that seems mean. Here’s a look at the total mill levies — meaning city, county, school district and other miscellaneous property taxes — for the 13 largest cities in the state:

1) Overland Park: 118.841

2) Wichita: 120.906

3) Salina: 124.614

4) Shawnee: 124.646

5) Lawrence: 125.160

6) Olathe: 129.779

7) Leawood: 130.090

8) Lenexa: 130.418

9) Manhattan: 131.686

10) Leavenworth: 144.677

11) Topeka: 151.270

12) Hutchinson: 165.022

13) Kansas City: 178.402

The Average Joe test

Here’s the thing about property taxes: They’re all relative. Your total tax bill depends on both the mill levy rate and the value of your house. Property values, obviously, vary quite a bit from community to community. But beyond those factors, there’s also the average wages in your community, which help determine how much most folks can reasonably pay in taxes. So, this test tries to combine all those factors. What we’ve done is take the average home price for each city as determined by the 2010 American Community Survey, which is a product of the U.S. Census Bureau. We then looked at the average wage paid to people in each community. With wages, we used American Community Survey data that represents the average earnings of full-time, year-round workers. That’s our attempt to try to factor out the large number of student workers in Lawrence, who normally are paid quite a bit less than full-time workers. The dollar numbers below are the taxes paid on an average-valued home. Then we calculated how large of a percentage those taxes are compared with an Average Joe (or Jane’s) annual earnings. Here’s a look:

1) Wichita: $1,547 in taxes; 4.0 percent of earnings

2) Olathe: $2,884; 4.3 percent

3) Salina: $1,572; 4.5 percent

4) Topeka: $1,638; 4.5 percent

5) Hutchinson: $1,639; 4.9 percent

6) Kansas City: $1,938; 5.1 percent

7) Lenexa: $3,226; 5.2 percent

8) Overland Park: $3,043; 5.5 percent

9) Shawnee: $2,846; 5.6 percent

10) Leavenworth: $2,066; 5.7 percent

11) Lawrence: $2,488; 5.8 percent

12) Manhattan: $2,480; 7.1 percent

13) Leawood: $5,753; 8.3 percent


tuckerclan 5 years, 11 months ago

This should be a lot easier. Just show us what the tax on a $150,000. house in each area would be. Also, The Douglas County appraiser is REALLY, and I do mean, REALLY proud of the values of a house in Douglas County. My house is worth soooo much I can't afford to sell it. They try to double my sons house value every year, and every year we have to take time off of work to fight it. It's just plain harassment. Like everyone else at the tax meetings, If they would buy my house for what it appraises for, I would sell it to them.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

Works if the $150K house is equivalent. A $150K house in Montgomery County would really get our appraisers excited.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence has become a high dollar place to live while maintaining its position as among the lowest wages in the state = wreckanomics. And Lawrence is declining in population which may be the discovery by some that it takes money to live in Lawrence, Ks.

I say the housing boom is cooked for a long time. Who the hell wants inflated property values so the powers that be can increase our taxes to support reckless spending and flooding of our markets?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Johnson County/Overland Park looks like the better bang for the tax buck. Imagine that.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 11 months ago

Tucker is 100% correct. Our mill rate is inconsequential given that the values assessed to differing properties in this town seems very random. As an example- the last house I bought sold to me for $92,000 after sitting on the open market one year. Imagine my surprise when the assessed value of $135,000 showed up at my door. So I challenged it and provided both documentation of the purchase price and real estate comps that didn't come close to $135,000. The result of the appeal? The property is now valued at $123,000. STILL higher than any of the comps and still $30,000 more than I paid in the free market. Anyone want to buy my house for $123,000 - the same house that was listed by the seller originally for $99,000? it's worth every penny, just ask the city.

buffalo63 5 years, 11 months ago

We learned several years ago that the politicians like to taut the fact they didn't raise the mill levy (or they even lower it), but then the appraisals are raised to meet the budget needs of the city, county and school district ,etc. We fought it one year all the way to Topeka. What a joke on us that was!

Topple 5 years, 11 months ago

Are there any articles about taking it to Topeka? I'm new to Lawrence and plan on buying my first home in the near future. I find this interesting.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

Does the city/county pay the newspaper for this propaganda? A home innLawrence is appraised 20-25% than anywhere else in the state. We undoubtedly have the highest property taxes in Kansas. What other city has empty buses driving all over the place?

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

Good article. Long way around to saying Lawrence taxes near the top of all taxers. I can understand Leawood as it has a lot of high income players who want things they are willing to tax themselves to get. Manhattan is caught up in the expansion of the post with associated infrastructure and social costs.

We in Lawrence just plod along. Of course one could argue we have a bifurcated income scene. WE have high paid academics at the university who drive up the average income and we have more numerous students who pull it down. The former have the ear of the lawgivers. The latter are just not here long enough to matter.

If you are going to live here and are not associated with the teaching mission of the university – you better be employed in something where income increases faster than inflation annually., That may not be the case with even economically advantaged seniors.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

Leawood's average income is also about double Lawrence's

chootspa 5 years, 11 months ago

If you think it's fun now, just wait until 2014. Remember when we decided to self fund SRS rather than lose it? Yeah, it's like that only more so.

patkindle 5 years, 11 months ago

the city, usd497 and the county needs all the tax money they can get and i agree the mill value is only as valid as the assessments according to the appraiser, house values have raised about 220% in the last 20 years but home values are only about 150% of what they were 20 yrs ago so it reallydoesnt matter, the city usd497 and the county are gonna get so much money regardless of how you want to figure it lower the valuation, raise the mill levy sorry it aint rocket science

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

And this is exactly why giving more taxing power to the county appraiser should scare the hell out of everyone. I'd much rather have an income tax where it's hard to play games. If there's any tax I'd like to see less of, it's the property tax. At least with the income tax you're being taxed on a stream of cash flow. With property tax you're being taxed for something just sitting there. The Kochs have it backwards.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

No, the Kochs have it just right---for them. Particularly if their aim is to push the middle/working class into poverty, which I suspect is the case. Makes controlling us so much easier.

I've already downsized about as much as I can and it wouldn't be worth the cost to try and find something even smaller and then try to sell my current house. In this market it's not going to repay what I've put into it, if I could even sell it at all. Inflation will keep outpacing my income and with the current tax bill passed in Kansas, you can bet that property taxes will be increased. And the figured rate of inflation is a crock---it's not weighed toward the necessities like food, gas and electricity, which are most of the budget for many of us. Housing prices gone down---doesn't help me. Rate of inflation for new car prices---doesn't help me. Clothing prices---doesn't help me.

To be forced to sell my house because of property taxes and renting would cost more than my house payments.

For those of us who are retirement age, it's a lose/lose situation. My careful plans did not take into account what the Kochs and this governor planned for the state.

Please send me or post your dried bean recipes. Besides using them to replace any meat in my diet, maybe I can put together a cookbook to supplement my income.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 11 months ago

As I read your letter, I was reminded of the almost exact arguments made when California passed it's famous (infamous) Prop. 13. Retired persons were being forced from their homes because of rising property taxes that were being fueled by increasing property values. Perhaps Lawrence, or maybe Kansas should give something like Prop. 13 a try. The fact that it has virtually bankrupted California shouldn't deter us.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

I did not and do not advocate for a Proposition 13 for Kansas. That was bad on so many levels and certainly not a cure for a complex problem. And it wasn't just Prop 13, it was what was done later than compounded the problem.

If you find my arguments unpersuasive, then argue with. I hope that I am wrong.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

Posted too fast. Please argue with what I said, not with a solution that I never advocated.

chocolateplease 5 years, 11 months ago

For all the money that USD497 gets, why aren't they doing as good a job as the Blue Valley schools?

chootspa 5 years, 11 months ago

I bet they are when you consider socioeconomic status.

Scott Morgan 5 years, 11 months ago

Numbers can be misleading. Add in fees, and the huge sales tax, parking meters, energy costs, overvalued homes, and bada bing you have the highest per capita tax burden in the state.

Pennies can add up, ask anybody who paid the famous Missouri one percent earnings tax. Especially those who did business in Missouri and lived in Kansas. God bless Ronnie Reagan who threatened to end tax withholding so people could actually see the true taxes paid on Dec. 31.

patkindle 5 years, 11 months ago

it really makes no difference the more money you have the more they will take away and give to some one who doesnt have as much hope and change you know

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

verity (anonymous) replies…

No, the Kochs have it just right---for them. Particularly if their aim is to push the middle/working class into poverty, which I suspect is the case. Makes controlling us so much easier.

Fascinating. You and I are on opposite sides of most issues but we seem to have the same problem. Property taxes have gone up much faster than inflation. My retirement was and is based on inflation. Local sales taxes have pretty much kept pace with inflation as has my federal income tax. State sales taxes went up about 20% in addition to inflation.
I support many of the eservices you support. I just cannot continue to address the tax increases. I would prefer we raise state and federal income tax progressivity if we are going to raise anything. There is not a lot there but enough to slow down tax growth in other categories. After that the only way I know to avoid more tax increases is to not grow government faster than inflation.

Your seem to argue for such growth. If so would that not be contradictory with your argument here?

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

Now sure that I understand correctly everything you said, but will try to explain my stance.

What seems to be ignored by many people about the supposed tax cuts in Kansas is that they are tax cuts for higher income entities and tax hikes for many with lower incomes. People complain about the poor having no skin in the game---many are barely able or not able to subsist on what they make and we are putting more of the burden on them---and we criticize when they have no hope and give up. It seems that the less well-to-do are subsidizing the better off. I object to the people who scream about "liberals" wanting to not work and to take from those who do. The facts don't support that at all---it's a bogus way to change the conversation and work people up. The comments below yours are a case in point.

As I've stated before, it's not that we need more or less government, we need the right amount of government to fit our needs and those needs are not the same as they were two hundred years ago or even ten years ago. We need to continually assess what is needed---AND we need to cut out fraud and waste. Again, while I'm sure there is fraud and waste in medicare, medicaid, food stamps and so forth, it appears that there is a whole lot more waste and fraud, for example, in subsidies to corporations and in the military. Welfare to poor people is a small drop in the bucket to that.

I am not arguing for government growing faster than inflation. I am arguing for using logic supported by facts, not by ideology, in making decisions about governing. That seems to be lacking currently.

I am a very thrifty person with my own finances---I have to be now, but I always was. But---another mistake many people often seem to make---my spending and government spending is not the same and my thriftiness may be good for me personally, but not necessarily for the economy. Growing the economy depends on people buying stuff, so we have a conundrum.

For those of us who played by the rules and now live in fear of being in poverty in the years when we had thought we would be secure, of course we're angry.

Don't know if this has answered any questions and I'm not interested in a flinging contest. If you have reason to disagree with me, fine, I will listen.

patkindle 5 years, 11 months ago

THE VOTERS APPEAR TO WANT MORE AND MORE OF THIER LIVES RUN BY THE GOVT but you have to remember we have more people that vote for a living than work for a living we need more people working and paying taxes and less living off of obamas money, the guys is buying votes everyday with his policies lawrence is a prime example, as long as some one else will pay the price for the feel good things we want thats cool. but we dont want to pay fo them, let the other guy pay for them out of thier pocket

patkindle 5 years, 11 months ago

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish… and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Latest Chinese Proverb Import :

“Give a man a welfare check, a cell phone, food stamps, section 8 housing,

Medicaid, 100 weeks of unemployment checks, a 40-ounce malt liquor, needles, drugs,

contraceptives, and designer Air Jordan shoes… and he will vote Democrat for a lifetime.”

Scott Morgan 5 years, 11 months ago

pat.............also the end of our great Republic as well. This nation was not built on socialism.

I am firmly conservative, but would vote for a Dem if I thought it would be good for the nation. Sadly, I think this kind of logic is gone forever with the libs. Vote for the candidate giving you the most.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

Once again, generalizations about liberals which are not true. Why is it that some people feel the need to keep trashing liberals instead of addressing the issues?

What was this nation built on? It was never just one thing. We have a combination of many things, including capitalism and socialism. We have a complex society and I don't see any easy answers. Name calling and false generalizations do not help.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago


How about budgeted dollars per citizen income?? In fact that is what the last table lists as a %.

All the dollars taken in property taxes basically make up a portion of the budget the government will spend. The % shown reflects how much of our income that portion of the budget is.

To this add sales taxes and you have th local take. At the sate level add income taxes and personal property taxes (and a bunch of business taxes) and you have that pot.

Note that just about all of them take between 4 to 6% of ithe income of the people served who pay property tax. That is the key number.

It costs money to provide all the goodies our governments provide.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

Verity: What seems to be ignored by many people about the supposed tax cuts in Kansas is that they are tax cuts for higher income entities and tax hikes for many with lower incomes. People complain about the poor having no skin in the game---many are barely able or not able to subsist on what they make and we are putting more of the burden on them---and we criticize when they have no hope and give up. It seems that the less well-to-do are subsidizing the better off. I object to the people who scream about "liberals" wanting to not work and to take from those who do. The facts don't support that at all---it's a bogus way to change the conversation and work people up. The comments below yours are a case in point.

Moderate: Well I agree with you that we should not subsidize the rich. However that assumes an agreed upon amount of money to government to provide services from an agreed upon set of taxpayers. I do not believe we have anything like that. I would argue that at the state level we are not too far from that agreement (except for the rich). However, the maximum the rich pay is a little over 6% with many already protected from taxes by special considerations buried in our legal code. I suspect that a real search would show that the people paying the full bill at the state level are in the upper half of the middle class. The people lower down the line get many deductions like (WIC) that helps reduce any taxes by them. As long as you tax people inconsistently you are going to have fights. I have already posted heavily about the federal level. I do note that the sum of resources we make available for the poor exceeds $25000 per household. I do note that a family earning $100K (teacher and cop) pay about 30% of their income in direct taxes and another 7.5 % in payroll taxes. That is a lot of money. How much more should those of you making that argument have?

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago


To me it is not about rich and poor it is about a system that is not politically driven in irrational ways. Certainly there are those who need help who should have it. But $25,000 is a lot. Maybe we are not spending it wisely. Maybe there is fraud waste and abuse in our social safety net.

I am sure there is fraud, waste and abuse in the commerce and defense part of the budget. That said we cut about 10% this year. We are cutting more in the future. How much waste is there? 10%, 50% 100%??? I might observe that government money for “green” investment is in this part (commerce) of the budget and is not small. Should we cut that?

I happen to believe that people should have the ability to get ahead if you want them to work hard. Why get yourself into debt if success leads to little real gain (your taxes go up significantly). Many start life with a combined income of about $50K and you pay about 6K in taxes. If you work hard and advance you make it to $100K and your taxes are now about $30K. That means the government is taking half of your reward. Is that what you want?

I worry we have gone too far and too many people have no incentive to work hard as they can obtain sufficient government support to be comfortable while not having to bust their butt. I remind you that over 90% of us have jobs (8% unemployment). Is the issue you present really that big or are people making it sound big for political reasons?

So we see the world very differently but I do accept your argument that people should not put words in your mouth and they should not put them in mine (katara and Medicare for example)

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 5 years, 11 months ago

Property taxes punish people who work hard so they can live in a nice home. There should be no property taxes. Sales tax should be raised to provide money to all of the entities that are currently enjoying money from property taxes. That way everyone pays, People passing through, students, shopper from another city, etc. There should be no tax on groceries, or vehicles.

chootspa 5 years, 11 months ago

No. Income should be the only thing taxed if you have to pick one, and at a graduated rate. Sales taxes disproportionately tax the poor more than the rich, even when you exclude groceries, and it encourages people to spend their money on online, out of state businesses instead of locally.

George Lippencott 5 years, 11 months ago

So I am going to pay $200 for a hammer. $5.00 for the merchant and $195 in tax??

Hail_To_Thee 5 years, 11 months ago

So, for those who are on here complaining, what are you going to do about it?

Its easy to b***h, but actions get response.

Thats the major problem with our country today is we all like to complain, but noone wants to put change into motion with their actions. Its easier to set in the house and argue with the television or the computer.

chootspa 5 years, 11 months ago

I already got my form reply back from the gov's office, and my local representation agrees with me. What exactly do you propose I do, other than pack my bags and vote with my feet?

deec 5 years, 11 months ago

It is interesting that KCK, with all their lauded economic development in the western part of the country, have the highest overall property tax burden. I thought growth was supposed to be good for everybody. I guess that only works when the county keeps the tax revenue instead of giving the money to the private corporations.

mycatsrightorwrong 5 years, 11 months ago

I really think that the property tax is the best tax. If you're taxing income or sales, you're taxing personal productivity or economic stimulus. Like Reagan said, if you tax something, you'll get less of it. You can't get less of property, which is basically accumulated wealth. It'd be even better if builings and houses were exempt from property taxes, b/c there'd be no disincentive to build productive properties; only land would be taxed, and people wealthy enough to afford its locational value would be forced to use it productively so they could pay the tax.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

I like how this article was published a few days before the city goes asking for another $50 million for a new police headquarters. I guess that was just a coincidence.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

By the way, Lawrence, you might want to keep some powder dry until we figure out what the hell is going to happen when the state loses 1/3 of its tax revenue. That might be prudent, don't you think?

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

and with misleading nature of the information I can assume this originated with one Aron Cromwell. His specialty is fleecing the local taxpayers.

Richard Payton 5 years, 11 months ago

Chapala, Mexico expat communities might be a better value for your money. Still this area of the world has a lot to offer in terms of midwest values.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

"hey look, my neighbor, the heart sugeon, is putting in a $250k pool. My mortgage payment is $1500 less per month than his. I better build a pool too!"

-Aron Cromwell overheard this A.M.

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