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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Kansas legislature set to begin 2012 session

  • The Kansas House and Senate are set to return to session Jan. 14 at 2 p.m.
    Legislators and their staff, along with a full complement of lobbyists, are preparing for a busy session.
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  • The Kansas House and Senate are set to return to session Jan. 14 at 2 p.m.
    Legislators and their staff, along with a full complement of lobbyists, are preparing for a busy session.
    And at home, city and county officials, along with a number of constituency groups, are also anticipating what the session might bring.
    Ed Elam, county administrator for Ford County, lists three potential concerns for citizens of the county.
    "The county always ends up being the bad guy because we're the ones collecting the taxes, but we're mandated by state statute to provide certain services," Elam said in an interview Friday.
    And at least three issues expected to be addressed in the upcoming legislative session could cause property taxes to go up.
    First on Elam's list is a proposal that would reclassify certain equipment for accounting purposes, exempting fixtures from tax.
    According to data complied by the Kansas Association of Counties, the fiscal impact of fixtures exemption would be significant in Ford County. The tax revenue lost by the county is estimated at $1,242,708. The total loss to all taxing entities in the county would be $5,196,523. To make up for the lost revenue, property taxes in the county would have to increase 13.68 percent.
    "That would mean an increase of $200 to $300 for a $100,000 home in most Dodge City districts, in a worst case scenario," said Patti Israel, county appraiser.
    "Legislation behind the exemption of fixtures is being pushed by the Koch brothers, with their connections to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce," Elam said.
    According to state Rep. Brian Weber, the Kansas Association of Counties numbers are not based on the plan that's actually being proposed.
    "The heart of the issue is that we need to clarify the definition of fixture," said Weber, a first-term Republican representing the 119th House District.
    Weber also says that consideration of the issue will not take place until the Legislative Divison of Post Audit completes its report in April.
    "I'm not interested in serious conversations about the issue until we have that report," Weber said.
    Transparency
    Another concern for Elam is the loss of Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction revenue.
    The measure, which was a mechanism to help counties lower property taxes, dates back to the 1930s. The LAVTR formula was placed into state statute in 1965. The state capped LAVTR dollars in 1991 and quit appropriating the fund completely in 2003.
    "The county has lost $500,000 per year since 2004," Elam said.
    County officials across the state would like to have the funding restored.
    "We're not like the federal government, we can't just keep printing more money," Elam said.
    Another new proposal adds to the concern.
    "It's basically a tax lid," Elam said.
    Page 2 of 2 - The proposal calls for more transparency in dealing with increased valuation.
    When property values go up, which they do nearly every year, taxing entities see increased revenue, even if the mill levy stays the same.
    So public officials working on budgets can say "We didn't have to increase the mill levy this year," when in fact the total budget can be significantly higher than the previous year because each mill is worth more.
    Proposed changes would require paperwork and public hearings to access increased revenue due to higher valuations.
    But Elam considers that effectively a cap on those funds, making them inaccessible to counties.
    "Transparency is fine — we have public hearings in order to adopt each budget but very few people participate in those — this plan would block us from accessing those funds completely," Elam said.
    Unanswered questions
    County officials across the state are also worried about potential changes to sentencing guidelines.
    "They're looking at increasing the time that has to be spent in local jails before qualifying for state prisons," Elam said.
    Many jails across the state are full and if qualifying time or sentences are lengthened it will put additional stress on the system, along with additional costs.
    The Kansas Association of Counties keeps tabs on the progress of legislation through the session. They can alert public officials to potential issues as they come up before the legislature.
    "The problem is unrelated last-minute amendments that get tacked on bills," Elam said.
    "We just don't know what the state might do that would require more services or affect our revenue."
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