Property Tax Lid Dominates Four County Meeting (AUDIO)

A Four County Meeting was held in Mankato on Monday. The county commissioners and country clerks from Mitchell, Jewell, Osborne and Smith counties were in attendance.

Sheila Koster, who serves as Sanitarian for a seven county area, which operates through the Smith County Health Department presented a progress report. Her report covered the four counties in attendance plus Rooks, Phillips and Republic. Her report detailed reviews of wastewater systems including site inspections, addressing complaints, vetting contractors and more from July through December of 2015. Koster said 70 wastewater systems were installed among the seven counties during 2015. Financially, the department brought in $8,112 in the second half of 2015.

Discussion was held that the car provided for Koster isn’t always suitable for the roads and conditions she has to travel in. It was suggested she needs a four wheel drive vehicle. She sometimes has to drive off road to find wells, and she has dealt with several flat tires. Her current vehicle is a 2005 Chevy Malibu with about 113,000 miles. She was given the go-ahead to be looking at options and pricing for a different vehicle to present to the group.

There was also discussion brought forth by Mitchell County Commissioner Jim Marshall about landfill fees. The other three counties in the group apply an assessment for landfill fees to each household and business in their county. Typically, at $60 per year. These fees are collected for all occupied and unoccupied but livable structures in lieu of charging landfill fees which is difficult in those counties as they do not have scales at their landfill as Mitchell County does. Those monies help cover the continuing costs of maintaining a landfill.

Smith County Clerk Sharon Wolters summarized the need and the justification for charging the landfill assessment fees and described how she explains that need to those who question the landfill assessment.

There was extended discussion, particularly from the four county clerks in attendance, regarding the ongoing property tax lid saga taking place in the state legislature. The four clerks in attendance were visibly and verbally opposed to the law. The possible implementation being moved up from 2018 to possibly later this year was a significant area of concern for them. Under the program, counties could not increase property taxes by any more than the percentage increase in the consumer price index. Any additional increase would be put to a public vote which would require a special mail-in election. This prospect, though maybe attractive to tax payers and voters, would be difficult logistically for counties to undertake. Particularly for smaller counties, and in most cases it would be anti-cost effective at best when you consider that such an election in a small town with few as just 10-20 registered voters would cost at least $3,000.

Sharon Wolters was the most vocal on the property tax lid concerns, though the other three clerks clearly appeared to share her sentiment. Wolters explained some of the issues that this law will create for counties and county election officials, particularly in very small towns, and how she felt let down by the Kansas Association of Counties and Executive Director Randall Allen when the law was making its way through the state legislature last year.

Wolters also suggested some sort of compromise for smaller communities as she fears this new law may force some of them to un-incorporate as their only option due to the cost prohibitive factor of the law for those smaller communities.