Kansas finds itself in an unenviable position when it comes to property taxes. A recent study by WalletHub showed that its property tax rate of 1.4 percent ranks 37th in the U.S., making the tax rate one of the highest in the country. Homeowners in Kansas would pay $2,502 annually in taxes on a median home in the U.S. (valued at $179,000), while residents in Hawaii—boasting the best property tax rate—would pay $487 in annual taxes for a home of the same value.
Within the state, though, Harvey County is better off than many of its neighbors, as it has the eighth lowest levy per capita ($320) of the 105 counties. Those numbers come from the Kansas Association of Counties 2016 tax report, and in spite of the county being the 15th largest in terms of population and 10th smallest in land area.
Considering the ever-present outcry against taxes, Harvey County has managed to keep its property tax rates relatively low compared to the state's overall outlook, and the state eliminating revenue-sharing policies in 2004 meant to alleviate local burdens.
"(They) have eliminated using state revenue to assist cities and counties in lowering property taxes," said Harvey County commissioner Chip Westfall. "In their actions, they have limited cities and counties to two revenue funds, basically."
Following the dissolution of state revenue-sharing, counties were left to utilize property and sales taxes as those two main revenue funds, while cities are also able to collect revenue from utilities.
In 2016, Harvey County collected $2,384,895 in local sales and use taxes. The majority of revenue, though, was the $7,132,646 brought in through the ad valorem property tax.
"Property taxes are the largest revenue source for Harvey County. It would be very difficult to provide essential services like public safety and roads without this source of revenue," said county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber.
Communities within Harvey County use property taxes in much the same way. While Swartzendruber noted the county collects those funds for the other taxing entities (i.e. cities, school districts, etc.), the property tax revenue is distributed to them once the process is complete.
Each taxing entity has its own mill levy to establish those property tax rates, which are assessed in addition to the county rates. The lowest mills levied among those entities last year was .256 by the Sand Creek Watershed district, while the highest was 76.439 by the city of Halstead. The county levied a total of 41.358 mills in 2016.
Local realtor Arlan Newell, with J.P. Weigand, noted those within real estate are always looking at other ways to raise revenue (i.e. business growth) outside of property taxes, because he is aware those rates can impact potential buyers.
"It has an effect," Newell said. "People do look at those rates as they compare communities that they're going to move into in the area, so it does have some impact. How much? I don't know; there's no way to quantify that."
Kansas' ranking in regards to property tax may not tell the full story, either, according to Westfall. While the reliance on property tax is undeniable, Westfall was quick to note that some states (like Washington) charge fees that are not counted as taxes, which may skew the data.
Where the state's ranking goes in the years to come remains to be seen, but given the tax lid that was passed by State legislation in 2015 that will ultimately be left up to local residents, given the stipulations of that policy.
"Any major changes to property tax rates," Swartzendruber said, "except for items exempted from the property tax lid, will require a public vote."