by Murrel Bland
Budgets—both local and state—were the topics at the Legislative Committee meeting at the Chamber of Commerce office Friday, Aug. 14.
Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Unified Government, said the city and county governments were able to hold the tax rate at 82 mills for 2016—the same rate as it has been for 2015.
The good news is that the assessed valuation in Wyandotte County is finally seeing an increase—about 4.5 percent. What that should mean to a typical taxpayer will be that property taxes should not increase in 2016.
The Unified Government’s portion of a typical tax bill is about 49 percent. The Kansas City, Kan., School District is not increasing its mill rate; the Kansas City Kansas Community College is increasing its mill rate slightly.
Although property taxes should not increase for most people in Wyandotte County, it is significant that the Unified Government’s 2016 budget, in dollars, is $323,879,585 compared to $295,617,522 for 2015. That’s an increase of nearly $28 million or nearly 9 percent.
In defense of the proposed increase in spending is the Unified Government’s plan finally to spend in areas that have been neglected during the past several years including parks and recreation, capital equipment, buildings and public safety. All Unified Government employees will receive pay raises. Taylor also said that fund balances will be rebuilt, which should help the Unified Government’s bond rating—what it pays when it borrows money.
Greg Kindle, the president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said that the increase in assessed valuation shows that various economic development activities are paying off with an increased tax base. He pointed to a report from the Mid America Regional Council that claims, for the first time ever, more than 100,000 persons are employed in Wyandotte County. That ranks Kansas City, Kan., as 28th among 339 of the largest U.S. cities in job growth at 4.3 percent. Kindle said he hopes that 2015 will see more than $1 billion in new business development.
The news about the state budget–at $14.6 billion–is not nearly as good. That budget took effect July 1 and is the largest in state history, thanks to a massive shift from income to sales tax. Consumers will pay 6.5 percent sales tax while more than 300,000 professionals will get a substantial tax decrease. The governor has said that this tax decrease should spur the state economy with increased employment. Critics say this is false economy that hurts the broad middle class and those who can least afford to pay for such necessities as food.
Cathy Damron, the lobbyist for the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce, said many of the financial issues will still face the Legislature when it meets early next year.
This tax shift forced Gov. Sam Brownback to rob other funds to balance his budget. More than $400 million was taken from the Kansas Department of Transportation. That is bad public policy; transportation funds should be used to build and repair roads and not used to play political games.
And the unknown factor in state finances continues to be funding education. The Kansas Supreme Court has yet to rule on the latest school finance case. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, it could mean the Legislature would have to come up with more money for schools.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.