County candidates propose tax changes

Candidates for Sedgwick County Commission say they won't look to property owners for help paying the bills at a time when revenue is on the decline and expenses are up.

The county projects that property taxes — its biggest revenue source — will be down $2.2 million this year due in large part to delinquencies.

At the same time, investment income is projected to be down $3.2 million; local sales and use taxes are expected to be down almost 4 percent to $24.3 million; and mortgage registration fees are projected to be down by about $850,000.

Some candidates say they'd like to replace all or part of property taxes with a sales tax.

Republican Richard Ranzau, running for Kelly Parks' District 4 seat on the board, says he likes the idea of sales taxes and user fees better than property taxes.

"If you raise property taxes, it can make a recession last longer and can cause a recession to become a depression," he said.

He also thinks voters should get the chance to weigh in on tax increases.

Ranzau believes that residents would vote for increases "if it's a real need and people have seen their government work in a fiscally conservative manner."

Not allowing people to vote on increases out of fear they would never approve one "underestimates the intelligence of voters," Ranzau said. "It's not like they never pass school bonds."

Republican Dion Avello, who is running for Gwen Welshimer's District 5 seat, said he's talked to some county officials about replacing some property taxes with a sales tax.

But he said he didn't think doing away with property taxes would be realistic.

"You've got to have a base," he said.

Republican District 5 candidate Chuck Warren said he is not interested in pursuing a sales tax.

"Sales tax hurts businesses, and that would be one of the last places that I would go to," he said. "If the people want to vote for a sales tax for a special project, that is one thing, but I'm not interested in a sales tax for the general budget."

Other candidates say they're open to discussing a sales tax.

District 5 Republican candidate Jim Skelton said the county would have to look at

all the possible impacts and pitfalls of a sales tax.

"I'm open to any discussion that would be beneficial to the community," he said.

District 1 Democratic candidate Juanita Blackmon said that because not everyone who uses county services is a property owner, a sales tax might make more sense.

District 4 Democratic candidate Sharon Fearey noted that with a sales tax, "you also get money from people who don't live in the county, which is always a good thing."

But she said sales taxes can be regressive when applied to "the basic staples of life" such as food.

"I would want us to look at that, too," Fearey said, "and make sure we're not putting people right on the edge in further financial difficulty."

District 1 Democratic candidate Betty Arnold said she hadn't given much consideration to property vs. sales tax.

"There'd have to be a lot of conversation to make that workable to make sure each level of government is able to maintain operationally speaking," she said. "The county is in a unique position out of all the governments to not be hurting that much. There is a very good reserve there. That does not mean we should not be wise and good stewards over money."

District 4 Republican candidate Lucy Burtnett said she's "more than willing to listen" to arguments for a sales tax but said it was not something she had researched.

"If revenue continues on the trend it is, then we'll probably have to cut something," she said.

District 4 Democratic candidate Oletha Faust-Goudeau said she also had not focused on sales taxes as part of her campaign.