Johnson County budget hearing draws ire of crowd

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 9:57 PM CDT
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OLATHE, Kan. (KCTV) - Johnson County, Kansas, residents gave county commissioners an earful Monday night over their proposed budget and plans to raise their property taxes.

The measure up for a vote Monday was whether to charge more for property taxes than the previous year. The measure passed 5-to-2.

It was standing room only tonight in the county hearing room. Outside, people held signs up to the window that read: “Stop Raising Our Taxes” and “Lower Spending - Lower Taxes.”

“I’m retired and living on a fixed income,” said Mary Blake, who lives in Olathe. “In an economy [with] galloping inflation on necessities like food and gas, a 6% increase in my property tax feels like a tightening noose.”

“We are all being pounded by inflation and you want to make that worse,” said Dave Trabert, the CEO of the conservative-leaning, free-market think tank The Kansas Policy Institute.

Trabert is also an Overland Park resident

Sure property values have skyrocketed, some commented, but that doesn’t help the people who want to stay where they are.

“I’m getting ready to retire and I’d like to continue living in this county if you don’t force me out with your stupid taxes!” said Olathe resident Mark Cauthon.

The county is proposing lowering its tax rate by 1 mill, but in dollars. It’s still an increase for most because of rising property values.

County staff say the taxes levied would go up by 6% for the county, parks and libraries.

That’s an extra $69 for a year on a $385,000 home.

They acknowledge property tax bills will likely go up by much more, because there are numerous other taxing jurisdictions on a bill. They say the the county, parks and library jurisdictions they have control of account for just 20% of the tax bill. The largest is schools, which get more than 50% of the pie.

As for the proposed budget, those in the audience questioned the value of positions like social media coordinator and balked at public transit improvements claiming few people use Johnson County Transit buses.

The proposed expenditure increases include:

  • Capital improvement projects, the largest being on the wastewater system
  • Additional benefits for employees in this hard-to-hire era of high turnover and low unemployment
  • Additional positions

That includes a housing coordinator to address housing insecurity and affordability, and three additional positions at the Mental Health Center.

The proposed budget also calls for hiring seven more sheriff’s deputies and two more 911 dispatchers. Yet several people Monday night argued those agencies have trouble staffing as it is because pay isn’t competitive.

“I guess the question is, should we call you if we have an emergency and we can’t reach an officer?” said Leawood resident Michael Perry.

“There will be an increase, I’m sure, in those pay scales, but that takes more tax dollars also,” responded Board Chairman Ed Eilert. “So on the one hand, you know, don’t increase my taxes, but put more money over here. So you know, there is a balance and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

The only vote Monday night was to exceed the taxation rate that would give them exactly as much revenue from property taxes as last year.

On September 1, they will vote on the proposed budget as a whole, which includes the specific rate.

Every other taxing authority that makes up a property tax bill will have hearings as well if they want to tax revenue to exceed last year’s.