A look at what average people in average homes pay in property taxes across the state; Lawrence and 15 other cities ranked
It is time to check in on Joe and Jane Average and their taxes again.
Sure, you know Joe and Jane. They live in an average Lawrence home and they make an average Lawrence wage. They have friends in cities across the state who also live in average homes in those communities and make average wages in those communities.
About once a year, they get together to compare how much they each pay in taxes and commiserate about a few other economic matters. (I’m not saying you should avoid going to your mailbox out of fear that Joe and Jane send you an invitation to a party, but …)
Yes, of course, this is a little story I’ve created for your mind. What I really have is a long list of tax rates and data from across the state. The Kansas League of Municipalities has published its annual tax rate data book, which lists property tax rates for every city, county and school district in the state. As much of a page-turner as that sounds, I’ve found it helpful to look at the data through the lens of how it impacts our imaginary friends, Joe and Jane.
So, let’s get started and see how the Averages in Lawrence compare to the Averages elsewhere. Here’s a look by category.
• Property tax mill levies: Of the 16 cities in Kansas with populations of more than 25,000 people, Lawrence’s overall property tax rate — meaning the combination of city, county, school district and other miscellaneous property taxing entities — is right in the middle. Put your calculator away. That means Lawrence ranks No. 8 from the top (also 8th from the bottom, but you knew that.)
Lowest mill levy: Overland Park: 105.117 mills
Highest mill levy: Dodge City: 180.961 mills
Lawrence mill levy: 132.075 mills
Average of the 16 cities: 138.65 mills.
At this point, you might be thinking this is duller than Joe’s cocktail toast about itemized deductions. By this measurement, Lawrence appears to be very average, indeed. However, the property tax mill levies don’t mean a lot by themselves. They are just a number that works in conjunction with your home’s value. The mill levy is applied to how much your home is worth, which ultimately determines how much you pay in taxes. People who live in a city with a high mill levy but low home values may very well pay less in taxes than Joe and Jane do in average Lawrence.
• Home values: You have perhaps heard that Lawrence has a housing affordability problem. It is getting a lot of attention — and federal dollars — from elected leaders. That, however, does not mean Lawrence has the highest home prices among our group of 16 cities. Instead, Lawrence has the seventh-highest home value among the group. In other words, about average.
Highest median home value: Leawood: $498,900
Lowest median home value: Dodge City: $101,800
Lawrence median home value: $216,700
Average of the 16 cities: $208,725
A couple of things to keep in mind with these numbers is that they are from the 2021 American Community Survey five-year program run by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those are the latest numbers available. They also represent home values, not average selling prices in a community. Finding a home to buy in Lawrence for $216,700 is a trick right now. Rather, what these numbers say is that all the homes in Lawrence — those for sale and those that aren’t — have a fair market value assigned to them. That average is $216,700. Another way to look at that number: It is the second highest in the state, outside of Johnson County. The five highest communities all were in Johnson County. The one non-Johnson County community that was higher than Lawrence was Manhattan, with an average value of $222,300. But, again, Lawrence overall is about average among the other cities. (I know what you are thinking: Jane’s story about how she organizes 1099 forms is sounding more appealing all the time.)
• Property taxes: With tax rates and home values in hand, we now have enough information to calculate the actual taxes paid by our Average friends. Once again, Lawrence is pretty close to that average mark. It is seventh out of 16.
Highest property tax bill: Leawood: $6,578
Lowest property tax bill: Topeka: $1,938
Lawrence property tax bill: $3,291
Average of 16 cities: $3,128
In case you are curious, Shawnee was just ahead of Lawrence with an average bill of $3,493 and Garden City was just below at $3,014. Nine of the 16 cities had an average bill of more than $3,000. Four had an average bill of more than $4,000 — Manhattan, Lenexa, Overland Park and Leawood. Three — Leavenworth, Hutchinson and Topeka — had an average bill less than $2,000.
• Incomes. How much you must pay in taxes is one thing. How much money you have to pay your tax bill is another. You know everyone does not make the same amount of money in each community. (You learned that the hard way when you thought you were in the Leawood Average’s wine cellar, but actually it was just their half-bath.)
The Census Bureau provides multiple ways to look at incomes. The way I’m using here is median earnings for a full-time year-round worker. In other words, people who are working every day for a living. This probably factors out a lot of Lawrence’s student population, which may have part-time jobs but not full-time jobs. That’s important because those part-time student jobs can really deflate Lawrence’s total income numbers. Again, Lawrence finishes near the middle of the pack, with the 7th highest wage among the 16 cities. But, stick with me. We are about to step out of the middle of the road.
Highest median wage: Leawood: $126,898
Lowest median wage: Hutchinson: $40,112
Lawrence median wage: $49,221
Average of 16 cities: $54,847
Five cities, all in Johnson County, had wages of $60,000 or more. Three cities — Salina, Garden City and Hutchinson — had median wages less than $41,000.
• Tax rate: What I mean here is you are an average, full-time year-round worker, living in an average home in your community. What percentage of your income are you paying toward property taxes? In Lawrence, it is 6.69%. That is the third-highest of the 16 cities in the state.
Highest tax rate: Manhattan: 9.1%
Lowest tax rate: Leavenworth: 4.19%
Lawrence tax rate: 6.69%
Average of 16 cities: 5.73%
Garden City was the other community with a higher tax rate than Lawrence, checking in at 7.36%. Right below Lawrence were Overland Park and Lenexa at 6.27%. Four cities had tax rates below 5%: Hutchinson, Wichita, Topeka and Leavenworth.
Yes, I know many households have two incomes to pay for a house. That indeed would change the tax rate percentage. But the percentage really isn’t the point. It is where the city ranks on the list, and how much it is above or below the average. You could double the incomes for every city and the percentage would reduce by half, but the rankings would remain the same.
And, finally, I also know that there is a lot more to a community than its taxes. Everybody can look at this list of the four communities with the lowest tax rates and do their own comparison-and-contrast exercise with Lawrence. Higher taxes may produce a different quality of community — or they may not.
The point of this exercise wasn’t to tell you whether taxes were too high or too low. It was to introduce you to the Averages. (If you hurry, I think you can catch the last of their story about when they could no longer claim their son as a dependent. A real tear-jerker.)