Local property taxes are going up next year. That’s not good news, but neither is it a surprise. In fact, it is necessary for Manhattan, Riley County and the Manhattan-Ogden School District to maintain their levels of service.
On the positive side, the total increase is less than a full mill, though only by the slightest margin; the increase is 0.99 mills. In dollar terms, which is what matters to property owners — the owners of a house valued at $200,000 will pay $91.72 more in property taxes than they did last year.
Those owners will pay $33.24 more in city property taxes, $29.78 more to fund county operations and an additional $28.70 to the school district. The governing bodies were able to minimize the increase because the rise in property valuations — an average of 2.3 percent — made each mill more valuable.
That doesn’t mean the Manhattan City Commission, Riley County Commission and the Manhattan-Ogden Board of Education were reckless. Far from it. The school board came the closest to maintaining a flat mill levy, approving an increase of just 0.04 mills. But all three governing bodies strove to balance their respective needs with the impact on property taxpayers. The county levy rose less than half a mill — 0.432 mills, and although the city levy rose the most, the increase was barely half a mill — 0.518 mills.
Taxpayers can quibble with some of the governing bodies’ priorities, as we did with details the City Commission haggled over. And even though city commissioners left much of the funding for road improvements up to a sales-tax question for voters to decide, it’s hard otherwise to find fault with the City Commission’s work. Some city commissioners were determined even late in the process to keep the mill levy flat, and probably could have found ways to achieve that goal. But doing so would have been a disservice to many residents who might have seen important services trimmed.
Setting budgets — balancing a multitude of competing demands for limited dollars — is among the most difficult and thankless duties governing bodies perform. The job has become even more challenging because the Kansas Legislature, whose conservative majority has cut important programs and services in its obsession with cutting sales taxes, has increased the burden on local governments and has left them to explain property tax increases to local voters.
This time around — and most years, for that matter — local governing bodies deserve credit for a job well done.