There may be little the Legislature can do to help the survivors of the April 14 tornado, but it can help future disaster victims by changing state law so Kansans no longer must pay a full year’s property taxes on homes destroyed during the year.
As Dion Lefler’s article in the Sunday Eagle demonstrated, such property-tax bills can seem like a cruel mistake to those who receive them.
“I lost my home, so why should I have to keep paying?” asked Matthew Ratlief, a resident of the devastated Pinaire Mobile Home Park in Oaklawn.
“It’s not a lot of money, (but) that’s not right. I don’t have a property anymore. It’s gone,” said the Rev. Doyle Edwards, a former Pinaire resident whose brother Joe Edwards was just elected to the Kansas House.
The situation seems especially strange to affected homeowners because the taxation of their totaled cars stops right away, while the real-estate taxes accumulate by the hundreds or thousands of dollars through the end of the year.
The reason is a state law declaring that real and tangible personal property shall be appraised by the county appraiser at its fair-market value as of Jan. 1, with no provisions for abating taxes on property lost to storms, fires or other incidents after that date.
Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire suggested charging taxes for only the first half of the year on homes destroyed during the period – which would be an improvement, but could still stick people with several months of taxes on nonexistent homes.
In contrast, victims of the Joplin, Mo., tornado in May 2011 were able to remove homes from the tax rolls effective the next month if they were made uninhabitable by the storm.
What seems like a commonsense change for Kansas may find few champions at local governments, which could see a significant hit to their property-tax revenue in the wake of a monster tornado. (As happened in Joplin, where the assessed value of residential property in Jasper County dropped by about $14.9 million for 2011, to just more than $675 million, according to the Joplin Globe.)
But the status quo doesn’t pass the fairness test.
To her credit, incoming Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, wants to look into the issue and see how lawmakers might improve it for the future.
Prorating such taxes may prove complicated, but the Legislature needs to act on what seems like a glaring case of government adding insult to injury.