Despite a March 1 legal deadline required by the state of Kansas, Ellis County residents won’t get their real property valuation statements in the mail anytime soon.
With too few people to handle the workload in the Ellis County Appraiser’s Office, Appraiser Lisa Ree said she asked the state for an extension, allowed by law.
“We can ask the Property Valuation Department director for an extension for 30 days,” Ree said Monday after a meeting of the Ellis County Commission in which she told them the statements would be late. “They granted us 15 days.”
“I don’t expect we’ll get them out in 15 days,” she said. “I expect we’ll have to ask for another 15.”
The statements notify all real property owners in the county of the value of their property as of Jan. 1. Then property tax statements are mailed out the following November or December, she said.
“We strive to get those out March 1 every year, but we have lost positions in our office and that is affecting how fast we can get our work done,” she said.
Faced with too little revenue to meet its expenses, the Ellis County Commission the past two years has cut more than $2 million out of the county’s budget, a 10% reduction.
“We had a retirement in 2015 and the commission at that time eliminated that position totally, and then we also had requested to fill an open position, and have been denied that request,” she said.
She said the office has eight people now, including herself, with one of those half-time and another only three-quarter time.
Overtime is severely limited and there’s more to do than can get done, Ree said.
The county has roughly 9,900 residential dwellings to value at least annually, about 1,100 commercial properties to value annually, and then there’s agricultural land, and vacant land.
“We have roughly 15,800 parcels in the county,” she said. “We have to value those each year, and we have to let the property owners know that value annually.”
That isn’t all, she said, as the state requires other procedural and statistical obligations with deadlines, too.
“We’re just going to have to keep plugging away and if we don’t make the deadlines we’ll have to suffer the consequences from the state,” Ree said.
The state grades county appraisers offices on procedural and statistical compliance, she said.
“They put a point system to all these procedures we have to do, and if you don’t meet all these procedures, then your grade is lowered,” Ree said. “If you don’t get enough points, then eventually the state can come in and take over the county.”
A few other counties are in the same boat, she said.
While the Ellis County Appraiser’s Office has asked for an extension before, it’s never been taken over by the state. That would be a first, she said.
“We do our best to make our deadlines,” Ree said, “but we are at a point that it’s just getting harder and harder to do a good job and to get those deadlines met. We all pride ourselves in our work, and it’s just pushing us too far, too hard.”
The county is planning an April mail ballot to ask voters about two different sales taxes to ease the county’s severe budget crunch.
With a sunset provision of 10 years, the two different sales taxes of a quarter-cent each would raise about $2.2 million annually.
Even with the sales tax money, the county commissioners have said there are no plans to increase the budget, but only to fund county services at their current levels. If both taxes are approved, it would add a half-cent tax on each dollar spent. Without a sales tax, the commissioners have said they will have to cut some services.
“I think it’s really, my personal opinion, it’s going to snowball,” Ree said. “All these things that we have to do throughout the year, we’ll have to keep asking for extensions.”