Commissioners from as far away as Finney County in southwest Kansas traveled to Manhattan to attend the Riley County Legislative Conference on Thursday, when officials discussed losses in state revenue, the dark store theory and county home rule.
State Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, Rep. Suzi Carlson, R-Clay Center, and Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, also attended the conference ahead of the state legislative session, which starts in January.
Chair Ron Wells discussed the end of “demand transfers” in Kansas and how it impacts counties. Demand transfers — revenue distributed by the state to counties — are dictated by statute rather than appropriation acts.
Those transfers include the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, County City Revenue Sharing and Special City-County Highway Fund.
However, the state stopped fulfilling demand transfer requests back in 2001. Since then, Kansas counties have lost about $2.5 billion from the state, according to an article by Chardae Caine of the League of Kansas Municipalities.
“Legislators and county commissioners, we all work for the same people,” Wells said. “And we should really be working together. I realize they blame a governor or two governors; this covers about six governors. It’s not a partisan thing or anything. It’s just simple fact, it’s in print.
“Now’s the time to get all legislators to, as I’ve said before, put the political hat on the shelf and let’s work together,” Wells continued. “Let’s do something for us taxpayers here in each county.”
Wells discussed this topic back in August during a meeting in Topeka with Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers.
“I am still open if we can’t get property tax relief through this vehicle, I’m still hoping to some possibilities of being creative about it,” Hawk said.
Clancy Holeman, county counselor and director of administrative services, provided a video clip and further information about the so-called “dark store theory,” which large retail businesses use to challenge commercial property values.
Under that theory, retailers argue that valuations should be based on the hypothetical value their stores would see if they were vacant or “dark.”
Attendees also talked about existing home rule in counties. Home rule gives counties the right to determine enactments in their specific county, which is granted by statutes.
Riley County commissioners urged the state representatives who attended the conference to talk with their colleagues in Topeka about these issues for further progress.
Hawk encouraged commissioners to be in communication with the Kansas Association of Counties in order to make an impact and create change with the Kansas Legislature.
“We’ve got to be engaged,” Lon Pishny of Finney County said to Hawk. Pishny, a a Finney County commissioner, is running for the Senate seat open in the 39th district.
Looking ahead to the upcoming legislative session, Hawk said he hopes to continue to fund mental health initiatives while Carlin said Medicaid expansion is a large focus.
States have the ability to expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals and families who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Carlin said an additional 476 children in Riley County would be covered under Medicaid if it is expanded next year.