Taxes are lower than many think

Based on the rhetoric of anti-tax groups, it's understandable if Sedgwick County residents think their property taxes are sky-high. But that perception is inaccurate.

Among the state's seven largest counties, Sedgwick County's property-tax burden is at or near the lowest in a variety of measurements, according to a new report by the Tax Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.

As an Eagle news article Monday reported:

* Sedgwick County has the lowest median property taxes compared with Johnson, Wyandotte, Shawnee, Douglas, Leavenworth and Riley counties.

* Sedgwick County has the lowest property taxes as a percentage of income.

* Sedgwick County has the second-lowest property taxes as a percentage of home value (just above Leavenworth County).

But these are comparisons with other Kansas counties. Are our taxes high compared with other states?

Not particularly.

Kansas ranked No. 26 both for overall property taxes paid and for property taxes as a percentage of income. Kansas did rank 13th in taxes as a percentage of home value, though that's partly because it has some of the lowest home prices in the nation.

This isn't the only case in which perceptions haven't matched reality.

State business groups regularly complain about how bad the business climate is in Kansas. Yet many surveys put Kansas' tax burden near the middle of the 50 states (the Tax Foundation's 2010 State Business Tax Climate Index ranks Kansas at No. 32), and several publications, including Forbes magazine, have ranked Kansas as being among the most business-friendly states in the country.

The Wichita school bond debate last year also highlighted how, contrary to the perceptions of many, the Wichita school district had one of the lowest bond and interest mill-levy rates in the county. Even after voters approved the $370 million bond issue, Wichita's tax rate remains lower than several suburban districts.

It's also worth noting that low taxes — though certainly a selling point — don't necessarily attract businesses or residents, as some claim, and that higher taxes don't necessarily scare them off.

For example, Johnson County has enjoyed significant population and business growth despite its relatively high tax burden. And most business site-selection surveys rank work-force skills, labor rates, infrastructure and quality-of-life concerns as more important factors than taxes in relocation decisions.

Still, it's good to have low taxes, as it encourages investment and keeps more money in the pockets of taxpayers — which is particularly important during this down economy. And local governments need to try to keep rates as low as possible (and not use the Tax Foundation rankings as an excuse to raise them).

But as much as Sedgwick County residents love to hate property taxes, they should realize that those taxes aren't as bad as they may think.