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Ellis County levy remains low, for now

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

As property values have increased, Ellis County -- and other counties across the state -- have been able to hold the line on increasing the mill levy to pay for growing needs.

How much longer it will be able to do so remains uncertain, as legislators discuss changing the tax structure and hand down programs once paid for by the state.

The changes could be made without comment from county representatives -- in something of a twist on the notion of taxation without representation -- if legislators strip away the ability to lobby while using public funds.

That could happen under legislation banning the use of public money for lobbying, a bill that has been proposed, according to Randall Allen, executive director of the Kansas Association of Counties.

Regardless of what county commissioners in Ellis County or elsewhere do, property tax rates could be on the way up.

Taxes levied in 2012, according to data compiled by the League of Kansas Municipalities, stood at 34.389 mills for Ellis County.

That's down from 37.911 levied in 2009.

Except for Sedgwick County, it's the smallest levy among larger counties.

Ford County had a 2012 levy of 40.994, while Finney stood at 36.977. Douglas and Butler both had rates of nearly 35.75 mills.

Sedgwick County had a levy of less than 30 mills, but an assessed valuation dwarfing Ellis County's.

Proposals to reduce income tax rates are threatening to shift state income needs over to property tax rolls to fill projected shortfalls.

There's also a move afoot to redefine some personal property as real property.

"Obviously, that has the potential of huge impact," Allen said.

There's also concern about state government stepping away from programs it long has funded, such as mental health.

If that happens, Allen said, it "leaves county commissions in the unenviable position of raising taxes for certain services."

High Plains Mental Health, he said, fits the criteria of regional mental health care services.

"But the problem is they keep getting squeezed and squeezed and squeezed," Allen said.

It's the same on shifting income tax demands onto property tax.

"If I were a small business owner on Vine Street in Hays, I would be concerned about that," he said. "Rightfully concerned. The money has to come from somewhere."