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Eagle editorial: Make tax-abatement law work

  • Published Friday, June 21, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Lawmakers did their part to end the unfairness of charging people who have lost their homes to springtime disasters for a full year of property taxes. Now the Sedgwick County Commission needs to make the new law work.

Under a 31-year-old state law, real and tangible personal property has been appraised by the county appraiser at its fair-market value as of Jan. 1 each year, with no tax abatement on property destroyed later in the year by storms, fires or other incidents. So residents of the Pinaire Mobile Home Park in Oaklawn who saw their homes wrecked by the April 2012 tornado had no break on the property-tax bill they received in December. “That’s not right. I don’t have a property anymore. It’s gone,” the Rev. Doyle Edwards told The Eagle’s Dion Lefler, upon receiving his $190 bill.

After Lefler’s article on that cruel status quo, a bipartisan coalition of area lawmakers (including Edwards’ brother Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville) did a great job advocating for changing state law. Though it was touch and go until the final moments of the session, the resulting provision in the larger tax bill even allowed for retroactive help for last year’s tornado victims in south Wichita.

All five members of the County Commission also have expressed support for the tax abatement. The only question now would seem to be how best to let affected property owners apply for and receive the tax breaks.

Concerns linger in Topeka about how counties affected by much larger disasters would handle the fiscal hit of such abatements. It makes sense for the state to pick up the tab in some way – though with state income taxes on the way out in Kansas, an income-tax credit may not be the best method long term.

But if devastated homeowners in Joplin, Mo., were able to remove homes from the tax rolls just a month after the May 2011 tornado, such tax relief surely is possible in Kansas, too. In the wake of last month’s Moore tornado, Oklahoma also is allowing property-tax relief via an income-tax credit.

At least for Wichita-area tornado victims, the question is no longer whether such property-tax relief will be coming, but how and when. Thanks are due those elected officials who worked to right this wrong.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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