By Mallory Herrmann
County residents will be seeing an increase in their property tax bills, as soon as this year. The Jackson County Legislature voted unanimously to approve the reversal of all prior voluntary reductions of property tax rates. The move comes as a means to address an ongoing lack of funds available for county goals, namely the building of a new jail facility. All nine members of the legislature were present at the Sept. 5 meeting.
The voluntary reductions were put in place during the Great Recession, when the county saw a spike in foreclosure home sales. The county had decided to create a voluntary reduction as an economic stimulus.
County legislators expressed caution when calculating the anticipated revenue increase this would provide – and in how those funds would be spent. Ed Stoll, chief administrative officer, estimates a revenue increase of $19.5 million this year. His presentation included a sample scenario of a homeowner in Kansas City, within the Kansas City Public Schools district, whose property has a market value of $100,000: they will see a 2.56% increase in their property taxes, spending $38.65 more annually.
Legislator Greg Grounds said he would support the measure, saying, “You get the government you pay for.” But he also recognized that pointing to an increase of $0.74 a week will not be the reality for many homeowners, and that the reversal could mean a much more substantial amount of money for a lot of county residents.
Legislators Crystal Williams and Theresa Galvin suggested the need for oversight to ensure that the money is being spent prudently and as intended by this proposal. Funding for a new jail is anticipated to cost no less than $10 million annually over thirty years, though that is based on an early estimate that Stoll said was developed about a year ago. The legislature hopes that remaining funds from this year’s revenue increase will fund other facility upgrades and maintenance, such as courthouse elevators that are in frequent need of repair, as well as compensation increases for lower-grade county employees.
At a subsequent meeting on Sept. 10, Legislator Dennis Waits requested that county staff prepare a preliminary budget plan and timetable to review as they move forward with the process. The legislature will introduce an ordinance to set the tax levies at their next session. They will vote on whether to adopt those levies, effectively reversing the reductions, on Sept. 24. That meeting will include a public hearing.
The legislature will meet again on Monday, Sept. 17, at 2:30 p.m. at the county courthouse in downtown Kansas City.