May 28, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Small Kansas counties lead the way on spending control

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Good things do come in small packages…like taxpayer-friendliness and accountability.

Amid the public outcry over ever-increasing property tax bills, several Kansas counties are refusing to run with the tax-and-spend mentality of their big-city counterparts.

”Truth in Taxation” became law in 2021, which requires reductions in mill rates, so valuation increases deliver the same amount of tax money to each local government entity. Any increases in taxes require a public hearing and a vote by the governing body.  Taking full ownership of their tax increases prompted officials across all jurisdictions in 21 counties to collectively reduce their property tax take this year.  Looking only at county budgets, 29 counties reduced taxes.  Aside from declines in recessions or other unusual circumstances, tax changes of this nature are unprecedented in Kansas.

Reducing or holding tax revenue flat requires some work on the part of local officials, so The Sentinel wanted to know what they did to cut property tax.  This report features six counties, all with fewer than 5,500 residents.  Most of them chose to not respond, but the feedback we did receive could be used as a “How-To Guide” for other counties to establish tax and spending priorities.

The counties among those at the ‘Head of the Class’ in taxpayer-focused spending control are:

  • Chautauqua (Population 3,300). Cut tax revenue each of the last four years and did not increase this year, down 9% since 2016.
  • Kearny (3,800). Cut tax revenue four of the last five years, now down 24.6%.
  • Lincoln (3,000). Cut tax revenue each of the last four years.
  • Norton (5,300). Cut taxes four of the last five years, down 7.5%.
  • Sheridan (2,500). Cut taxes the last two years by a total of 14%, down 4.5% since 2016:
  • Wallace (1,600). Cut taxes each of the last five years, down 18.7%

Randy Lohmann is the presiding commissioner in Lincoln County. He mentions two areas where cost savings were made:

”We self-insured our medical insurance and cut costs in the highway department.”

Wes Bainter is chairman of the Sheridan County Commission. He praises the county’s fiscal management:

“Here in Sheridan County, we have reduced the amount of tax money we have collected by ¾ of a million dollars and at the same time have NOT cut any budget of any department in our county government or laid off any employees.  We have reduced the amount of carry-over cash from one year to the next because it became obvious that this carry-over cash was totally not necessary.  This was happening in the 10 years before I became a commissioner because of poor management by elected commissioners.  They were taxing excessive amounts just in case ‘we need more money, we’ll have funds on hand.’  This thinking is an abuse of taxpayers and says that we can throw taxpayers under the bus any time we want for any reason we want.  This is happening every year in a lot of Kansas counties.

“It was clear that a lot of our county road work could be done faster and better and for lots less money by contracting this work out to private contractors.  We are now contracting the hauling of road gravel, replacing culverts, mowing the county ditches, and road dragging to keep our roads smooth and well maintained for lots less money and getting far better results.  This had never been done before, and as always, I heard that ‘we just don’t do it that way.’  That’s the definition of insanity…..doing things the same way but expecting different results.

“We also moved our County Public Health to our county-owned hospital with great results.  Our Public Health is now being operated by health professionals who are totally equipped to provide the best and broadest range of services to our county residents.”

Bainter applauds the one-year-old Truth in Taxation law:

“This legislation makes it clear that we don’t pay property taxes based on valuations, or levies or anything else.  We all pay our property taxes in US DOLLARS!!  There must be good, sound reasoning regarding the level of property taxes.  These taxes DO NOT need to go up every year!”

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