Douglas County leaders to consider new property tax rebate program, heritage grants and more

photo by: Journal-World

The west side of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 23, 2021.

As part of a packed agenda for Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission is considering launching a rebate program to provide property tax relief for low-income seniors and disabled veterans, approving recommendations for 2024 Natural and Cultural Heritage Grants and more.

The pilot property tax rebate program, if approved, would begin in 2025 and would be available to Douglas County residents who are 65 or older or who receive full military disability benefits, and who own and occupy a home with an appraised value of $350,000 or less. It would give these residents a rebate of $300 per household or whatever the county’s portion of the property tax on their home would be, whichever is lower.

In addition to being seniors or disabled veterans, applicants would need to be at or below the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “very low income” limit, including receiving full Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits. For a household of two, for example, the maximum annual income under that category is $40,800.

The pilot program would be recommended for $500,000 in funding in the county’s 2025 budget. If the program is funded at the full requested amount, it would cover the maximum $300 rebate for 1,666 households.

The program is based on a similar pilot in Johnson County, which is currently in its first year.

According to Wednesday’s agenda, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data from 2021 showed that Douglas County was home to 207 veterans with 100% service-connected disability. The agenda also notes that in 2023, the state of Kansas received 1,445 applications from Douglas County residents for the statewide Homestead tax refund program, which is also targeted at low-income seniors and disabled veterans. That program also only applies to properties valued at $350,000 or less.

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The county’s Heritage Conservation Council is recommending funding for projects for the 2024 round of grant awards for the Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant program, which provides funding for heritage conservation projects throughout the county.

This year, $420,000 is available to be distributed for grants. Of that amount, $200,000 will be for projects specifically related to open space. That funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act and was allocated by the County Commission in 2022 specifically for use in open space projects.

Here are the 11 projects recommended for Natural and Cultural Heritage grants this year:

• Native Lands Restoration Collaborative is recommended to receive $59,425 for its “Nourishing Communities: Native Foods for Adapting Farms” project. The partnership will work with local producers, community gardens and the public to plan and implement demonstration plantings of native and perennial food crops to support adapting farms in response to climate change.

• Leeway Franks LLC is recommended to receive $35,000 for its “Wakarusa Native Foodways” project, which aims to assemble, share and distribute Indigenous food knowledge.

• Lawrence Jewish Community Inc. is recommended to receive $28,605 for preservation and education at Beni Israel Cemetery, a historic Jewish cemetery in Eudora.

• The Douglas County Historical Society is recommended to receive $26,320 for an expansion of the Watkins Museum of History’s core exhibits to incorporate the history of Indigenous cultures in Douglas County and stories of ongoing relationships between Indigenous peoples and the community of Lawrence.

• The Lawrence Arts Center is recommended to receive $20,000 for the La Yarda Public Art Memorial Project, which aims to establish a public art monument near the original site of the La Yarda housing complex in the woods in eastern Lawrence. La Yarda was home to dozens of Mexican-American railway workers and their families from 1920 until it was destroyed by the flood of 1951.

• Plymouth Church of Lawrence is recommended to receive $17,500 to refurbish a stained glass “rose” window on the 1870 church’s facade.

• The Ballard Center and Somos Lawrence are recommended to receive $13,000 to continue hosting annual Day of the Dead and Day of the Spring celebrations, and also organize workshops around each event both for community members and in school settings.

• The United Cemetery Association is recommended to receive $10,000 for ongoing preservation efforts at Sowers Union Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the county.

• Lumberyard Arts Center is recommended to receive $4,150 to expand textile arts programming to youths in sixth through 12th grades.

• The East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is recommended to receive $3,500 for nature art workshops at Prairie Park Nature Center.

• The Prairie City Cemetery Association is recommended to receive $2,500 for tombstone cleaning and preservation at Prairie City Cemetery in Baldwin City.

In addition to those projects, the University of Kansas Center for Research, Prairie Park Nature Center the Kansas Land Trust and Outdoors Unscripted — a three-day festival to be held in Lawrence in September 2025 — are all recommended recipients of part of the $200,000 in available open space grants.

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In other business, commissioners will:

• As part of a work session, hear an update on data from the Douglas County Crisis Line and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s Mobile Response Team from 2023 and the first quarter of 2024. Commissioners will also hear a progress report from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government about the county’s participation in an initiative on alternative emergency responses to 911 calls.

• Consider a site plan for an expansion at the site of American Equipment Sales in North Lawrence, 1723 East 1500 Road.

• Consider revising the Zoning and Land Use Regulations for unincorporated Douglas County to develop standards and establish an administrative review process for vacation rentals.

• Consider authorizing an additional $36,000 for Artists Helping the Homeless through its 2024 service agreement with Douglas County, for a total ongoing commitment of $412,686. The funding is intended to support additional costs related to the agency’s participation in the new City of Lawrence-led Homelessness Response Team launching later this month.

• Hear an update from a government relations firm about the end of the regular Kansas Legislative session.

The County Commission’s work session will begin at 4 p.m. in the Douglas County Public Works training room at 3755 E. 25th St. Wednesday, and the business meeting will follow at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will also be available via Zoom.


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