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State senator defends beleaguered tax lid

Staff writer

The state’s property tax lid, a source of great consternation as Marion County has been preparing its budget, was defended last week by State Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, whose district includes Marion County.

Unlike State Rep. Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, who represents Hillsboro, Peabody, and the southern portion of Marion County, Wilborn says he voted for the tax lid once various exemptions were added.

“County commissioners call me and say they like it,” Wilborn said. “Some elected officials like it, and some hate it.”

The basic goal of the lid is to limit government spending to no more than the previous year’s after adjusting for inflation.

Exemptions — which Wilborn is willing to call “loopholes” —allow governments to spend more in some categories, such as for emergency services and disasters, without having to ask voters to approve.

On advice of its tax accountant, Marion County has been using some of these loopholes to expand its proposed budget beyond what the lid would allow.

Without the “loopholes,” a large increase in assessed property values, attributable mainly to utilities, would limit Marion County to a tax rate of 72.848 mills next year — a net savings of $26.40 for the owner of a typical residence worth $82,600.

The owner of typical car worth $5,000 would save $4.17, and the owner of farmland or a business worth $1 million would save $833.70.

“There’s hundred of exceptions built into that law,” Wilborn said. “I voted for the final version when we got the exceptions in it. Suppose a tornado hits your town. You’ve got to be able to spend more to recover. Or suppose the federal government requires some new security measure, like for 9/11.”

Still, the basic goal is to prevent governments from hiding additional spending behind a tax rate that stays the same or declines because of increased valuations.

That’s exactly what Marion County is trying to do. The county is transferring some of its planned expenses into categories outside the lid’s impact and is planning to contribute additional money to special contingency funds that could be used in an emergency, even though they might end up being used for something else.

Wilborn seemed to dismiss the notion, suggested by some county officials, that local governments would keep tax rates the same, even if they didn’t need to be, for fear that rates would be hard to raise, if needed, in the future.

“Odds are if the utilities have been reappraised I doubt that they’ll drop in one year,” he said. “I’m not telling them what to do because they’re elected. Situations vary tremendously. If they want to put money in a rainy day fund, I’m not here to tell them it’s legal or not. Both sides have an argument. They have a point. That’s a decision they have to make.”

State Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, who represents Marion and the northern part of Marion County, still has not responded to inquiries about his position on the tax lid.

Last modified Aug. 2, 2018

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