To say members of the Wyandotte County Unified Government Commission were shocked when Mayor Tyrone Garner presented his proposal for a major property tax decrease at a recent “visioning session” would definitely be an understatement.
While the planned meeting was about “visioning” and the mayor definitely presented his vision, the commissioners seemed to feel the mayor’s proposal was more of a detailed plan rather than a vision.
In many ways, they were correct, the mayor’s vision/plan included a tight time schedule that would have to be implemented in less than 40 days to meet legal deadlines. So, the mayor appeared to want a quick buy-in that he didn’t get.
The mayor’s plan would significantly cut property WyCo property taxes, establish two rate structures, commercial and residential, for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) portion of the Board of Public Utilities bill, and the plan proposed implementation of a temporary UG-wide half-cent sales tax to pay for a list of major capital and infrastructure projects. As proposed, the sales tax would last for 10 years.
The mayor proposed an 8.5 mill reduction in property taxes, which is an $8.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. For a house assessed at $100,000 that would be an $850 reduction in the property owner’s taxes. With the increase in property tax revenue the UG would generate due to the recent uptick in property value, the mayor’s proposed mill levy decrease would instead net the UG approximately the same amount of revenue it is receiving in the current budget year.
Implementation of the half-cent sales tax would require a vote and approval by UG citizens. By timeframes set by regulations, in order to get the sales tax on the November ballot, the commission would have to pass an election resolution by early May.
The mayor estimated the temporary sales tax would generate $196 million over 10 years. Some of the projects the mayor would allocate the sales tax funds to were street and road reconstruction projects, a new recreation center, police equipment and technology enhancements and a new fire and police training facility.
“The people I’ve spoken to, taxes are their No. 1 issue,” Garner said. “Whatever income level, they talk about the high taxes and BPU.”
Giving tax relief to residents was one of the main priorities for Garner’s campaign.
“Let’s be mindful of some of our poor folks who are struggling with their utilities, those that are on fixed incomes that struggle with property taxes – those are the ones that cry out the most,” he said at a Board of Commissioners meeting. “Business owners want to come here, but when they see our taxes, they choose to go elsewhere and others are considering leaving.”
While the plan enticed many residents, commissioners were concerned about how it would affect the city. Just about every commissioner wants to lower taxes, but they’re worried that a drastic change would affect basic city infrastructure.
“What we disagree with is the magnitude of the plan, but we still agree with some sort of tax relief,” said Andrew Davis, 8th District Commissioner. “We have a lot of expenses like employees, making sure Parks and Rec have proper programming, infrastructure like street repair, potholes and bridges.”
Davis said he would support anywhere between 1-3 mills cut, but he’d have to see the data to see how it would affect the city.
District 5 Commissioner Mike Kane said he hasn’t seen the mill rate reduced that much in the 18 years he’s served on the Board of Commissioners and he wouldn’t support a proposal like it. He’s also concerned about the overall impact on the city’s operations.
“Public works is shorthanded. I don’t want to put the burden on our employees. The morale is the lowest it has ever been,” Kane said. “I want to lower the mill levy, but I don’t want to strap us.”
District 7 Commissioner Chuck Stites said he’s also for reducing taxes, but he doesn’t want it to prevent the city from maintaining its critical infrastructure.
District 3 Commissioner Christian Ramirez agreed with the commissioners, questioning what services will get cut as a result.
He added that the sales tax probably won’t pass if it’s put on the August ballot.
“I agree it’s something we can look into, but we need the education piece and to gather thoughts from the community,” he said. “We need to have the conversation on mill reduction and have the conversation with the community.”
Other commissioners, including District 4 Commissioner Harold Johnson and District 1 Commissioner Gayle Townsend said that before lowering the mill levy, they would need to know what it’d mean for residents.
“We need to have a strategic conversation with those other taxing jurisdictions, tear down the silos and work in a position of unity,” Johnson said. He added that he would not consider lowering a mill levy until that conversation happens.
Commissioner Davis wanted to make sure UG citizens understand that the UG accounts for just 46% of WyCo property tax bills. The other 53% of the bill is generated from mill rates levied by USD 500, KCK Community College, the library and state. Reduction in the mill levies of those other entities could further help reduce the tax bill for UG property owners.
Garner said the numbers may seem overwhelming, but that “different” doesn’t mean deficient.
“You cannot continue to do the same things and expect a different result,” he said to commissioners. “I’m here because I’ve sat in people’s living rooms and watched them cry. I’ve watched people lose their houses. I’ve watched people say the tax burden here is too heavy. I stood behind a commitment and that is to give them the relief that they deserve.”