Douglas County leaders approve pilot property tax rebate program for seniors, veterans; it’s scheduled to launch in 2025

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Douglas County Commissioners Patrick Kelly and Shannon Reid listen to a presentation from county staff during the Douglas County Commission meeting on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Reid presided over the meeting as Commission Chair Karen Willey appeared remotely via Zoom.

Story updated at 9:09 p.m. Wednesday, April 17:

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday voiced unanimous support for a pilot property tax rebate program for low-income seniors and disabled veterans, which is slated to launch in 2025.

At Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, commissioners approved the creation of the Senior and Disabled Veteran Property Tax Rebate pilot program, which will give eligible residents a rebate of $300 per household or cover the county’s portion of the property tax on their home, whichever is lower.

Commissioners had positive things to say about the pilot program, with Commission Chair Karen Willey in particular noting that she felt the program is a good step forward in addressing Douglas County residents’ concerns about climbing property taxes in recent years.

“I’m really pleased with what’s come before us, and I’m excited to communicate this to the public,” Willey said. “I know it doesn’t satisfy all the things that we’re hearing from (them), but I think it’s responsive and it gives us a chance to try this out and see where we go with it the following year.”

As the Journal-World has reported, the program will be available to Douglas County residents 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.

Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told commissioners she will plan to budget for $500,000 in the county’s 2025 budget, which county staff recommended to fully fund the program. That level of funding would cover the maximum rebate for 1,666 households.

Plinsky told commissioners that getting the word out about the new program before it launches will likely involve sharing information about other, similar tax rebate programs available beyond the county level. One example is the statewide Homestead tax refund program, which is also targeted at low-income seniors and disabled veterans and only applies to properties valued at $350,000 or less.

“Folks can qualify for more than one program,” Plinsky told commissioners. “The (Douglas County) Clerk’s and (Douglas County) Treasurer’s Office are really good about this. When folks come to them with questions, they can suggest these kinds of things, and I think more than just this program — it’d be Homestead, it’d be other programs, as well.”

In other business, commissioners:

• As part of a work session, heard 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. The work session also included a progress report about the county’s participation in an initiative on alternative emergency responses to 911 calls through Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

• Approved the recommendations for $420,000 in grant awards through the Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant program, which provides funding for heritage conservation projects throughout the county.

Some of the projects recommended for grants this year include efforts to preserve historic cemeteries and a partnership that will aim to plant native and perennial food crops to support adapting farms in response to climate change. This year, about half of the total funding will be split between four projects dedicated specifically to open space.

• Approved a site plan for an expansion at the site of American Equipment Sales in North Lawrence, 1723 East 1500 Road, by a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Shannon Reid opposed.

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

• Authorized 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, that will support additional costs related to the agency’s participation in the new City of Lawrence-led Homelessness Response Team.

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


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