Douglas County approves property tax increase for 2015 budget

Douglas County Courthouse Enlarge photo

August 18, 2014, 8:25 a.m. Updated: 18 August 2014, 8:26 a.m.

Douglas County’s largest property tax rate increase in 30 years created scarcely a peep from the public on Wednesday night.

County commissioners at their evening meeting unanimously approved a 3.914 mill increase in the county’s property tax rate for the 2015 budget, citing impacts from reduced state funding, a slowdown in mortgage activity, additional staffing for the county jail, and several other issues.

Only one member of the public showed up for the hearing, and he said the tax increase wasn’t welcome, but he wasn’t sure how commissioners could have avoided it.

“We’re getting close to retirement, and a tax increase doesn’t help,” said Chip McConnell. “But I’m not sure what else they can do. They seem to be pretty frugal, and everybody is trying to do the best they can.”

The tax increase will raise taxes on an average $185,000 home in Douglas County by approximately $83 a year.

Commissioner Mike Gaughan said the budget process was the most difficult one he has been through. Commissioners were faced with reduced revenue from the mortgage registration tax, which is being phased out by state lawmakers and is on the decline anyway due to a sharp drop in the number of properties being refinanced. County Administrator Craig Weinaug said about 2 mills of the nearly 4 mill property tax increase was a result of the challenges with the mortgage registration tax.

Other state actions impacting the county’s budget included a reduction in the tax rate on boats, reductions in mental health spending and a requirement to hire independent appraisers in tax disputes with industrial property owners.

“In the future, we need to have a better partnership with the state of Kansas,” Gaughan said. “The best case scenario is the state starts picking up some of the responsibilities they have been dropping. If they don’t, it will continue to leave communities doing triage.”

County commissioners also increased spending to add four new corrections officers at the Douglas County Jail to help with a growing number of inmates who have mental illnesses. The budget also includes a 3 percent pay raise for county employees, and approximately $77,000 for an information technology specialist in the district attorney’s office.

The 3.914 mill levy increase was the largest approved by the county commission since 1985, when the tax rate went up by 4.4 mills.

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