Ris­ing taxes price older res­i­dents out of John­son County

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY SARAH RIT­TER srit­[email protected]­star.com

Carol Hein was look­ing for­ward to spend­ing the rest of re­tire­ment in Roe­land Park — in the house she has lived in for 38 years, sur­rounded by ma­ture oak trees and well-main­tained Cape Cod homes.

She doesn’t want to leave her two-bed­room ranch-style home, which is a last­ing re­minder of her late hus­band and the first years they lived to­gether as new­ly­weds.

But now 74, Hein is ques­tion­ing how long she can af­ford to live in Kansas’ wealth­i­est county, where home val­ues con­tinue to sky­rocket — push­ing up prop­erty taxes year af­ter year.

The value of Hein’s home, off Roe Av­enue by R Park, has jumped by nearly $68,000 in the past five years, with her an­nual prop­erty taxes ris­ing $750. This year, she saw a 6% ap­praisal in­crease, which fol­lowed last year’s 10% in­crease.

Try­ing to make ends meet, she now works as a cross­ing guard, chap­er­on­ing Rush­ton El­e­men­tary School stu­dents across the street each day.

“I’m work­ing as a cross­ing guard to ba­si­cally pay my prop­erty taxes,” she said dur­ing an af­ter-school shift last week. “At some point I won’t be able to pay the taxes. That’s what it’s go­ing to come down to.”

Dozens of long­time John­son County res­i­dents said they are fac­ing a sim­i­lar de­ci­sion: Con­tinue aging in place — to be near fam­ily and the ameni­ties the Kansas City sub­urbs are known for — or leave, cash in on the ris­ing home prices and try to es­cape the in­creas­ingly heavy bur­den of prop­erty taxes.

About 200,000 home­own­ers have re­ceived county ap­praisal no­tices in the mail, with 87% see­ing an in­crease. The vast ma­jor­ity of home­own­ers saw ap­praisals rise 10% or less com­pared to last year, ac­cord­ing to the ap­praiser’s of­fice.

But across John­son County, es­pe­cially in the north­east and outer south­ern edges, many res­i­dents told The Star that their home val­ues have risen be­tween 12% and 20%. And that fol­lows years of sim­i­lar in­creases.

Those new ap­praisals will af­fect 2020 tax bills that go out late in the year.

Angie Grady said the value of her home in Mis­sion has jumped by $100,000 since she bought it in 2013. This year, she’s fac­ing a home ap­praisal in­crease of more than 14%.

And while that’s re­sulted in higher prop­erty tax bills and mort­gage pay­ments each year, she’s mostly con­cerned for her two chil­dren, both young adults try­ing to af­ford rent in John­son County.

“All these ap­praisals go­ing up and up have driven rent prices up to the point that they can’t af­ford to live in the area,” Grady said. “I’m kind of con­cerned we’re pric­ing our­selves out of new home buy­ers.”

That’s a con­cern echoed across John­son County, with home­own­ers say­ing they feel a lack of con­trol and don’t see an end in sight to the ris­ing bills. They worry that their com­mu­ni­ties are rapidly chang­ing, no longer af­ford­able for the young fam­i­lies and re­tirees who flocked to the area.

And many are plead­ing for re­lief.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it’s pushed out some good neigh­bors who are liv­ing on a set in­come,” Roe­land Park home­owner Mike Wolfe said. “It’s al­ways wor­ri­some to see the folks go who built this neigh­bor­hood and made it what it is.”

CHANG­ING CHAR­AC­TER

Sit­ting in the din­ing room of her 1950s-era home, Lisa Veglahn said she is re­lieved to be liv­ing in one of the last “un­touched” neigh­bor­hoods in Prairie Vil­lage.

The Coun­try­side East neigh­bor­hood, off 63rd Street be­tween Nall and Roe av­enues, re­mains mostly 70-year-old Cape Cod homes, but within a cou­ple of miles, sev­eral of those orig­i­nal homes have been torn down and re­placed with large houses priced at $700,000 to more than $1 mil­lion.

A cou­ple of years ago, the City Coun­cil voted on reg­u­la­tions to try to curb ex­ces­sive new build­ing, in hopes of main­tain­ing the char­ac­ter that has de­fined Prairie Vil­lage for decades. But Veglahn is still wait­ing for the day when she walks out on her front lawn to look up at a McMan­sion next door.

Ar­eas of John­son County where tear-downs have been most com­mon are see­ing some of the big­gest spikes in home val­ues. Many res­i­dents said that has been es­pe­cially frus­trat­ing as they pay for re­pairs and work to main­tain their older homes.

“You see a lot of old homes that have been torn down and de­vel­op­ers are do­ing a lot of new builds. When that hap­pens, that will up the over­all value in the area. It raises the over­all value of the en­tire com­mu­nity,” John­son County Ap­praiser Beau Boisvert said.

Prop­erty ap­praisals are an es­ti­mated value of what a home is worth. Ap­praisals are tied to

what com­pa­ra­ble houses have sold for within the neigh­bor­hood.

On av­er­age, home val­ues in parts of Prairie Vil­lage, Roe­land Park and Mis­sion rose as much as 10% this year.

Last year, Veglahn said her home ap­praisal rose by 21%. This year, she’s fac­ing an­other 8% in­crease. And that has re­sulted in her prop­erty tax bill creep­ing up each year, to nearly $400 a month.

“I strug­gle as a home­owner be­cause at some point I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to down­size. I want there to be a good mar­ket value when I sell my house,” Veglahn said. “But I don’t know that I could af­ford to live here once I stop work­ing, as a re­tired per­son, if the taxes keep go­ing up the amount they are. That would be a sig­nif­i­cant cost.”

The ex­tent to which an ap­praisal change will af­fect a home­owner’s prop­erty tax bill de­pends on where they live, due to the var­i­ous tax rates through­out the county.

For ex­am­ple, in 2019, a three-bed­room, 1,700square-foot Prairie Vil­lage home built in 1948 saw a 9% in­crease in its ap­praised value, push­ing it up to $291,000. That year, the home­owner’s an­nual prop­erty taxes went up $345, to $4,275.

By com­par­i­son, a fourbed­room, 2,200-square­foot south Over­land Park home built in 1984 saw a 5% ap­praisal in­crease, re­sult­ing in a home value of $282,000. Its an­nual prop­erty taxes went up $106, to $3,721.

“The north­east was re­ally the gate­way to John­son County at one point. That was kind of the brand,” said John­son County Com­mis­sioner Becky Fast, who rep­re­sents the north­east district. “You get your first house with your fam­ily in Mis­sion or Roe­land Park, then move south to larger sub­ur­bia. But now for young pro­fes­sion­als, young fam­i­lies and fixed­in­come se­niors, it’s re­ally tough in the north­east.”

Res­i­dents like Veglahn fear the foun­da­tion of north­east John­son County com­mu­ni­ties could per­ma­nently change.

“I am grate­ful for what my taxes pay for in Prairie Vil­lage. I love the parks. I love the schools. I love know­ing that when I’m out of town I can call the po­lice de­part­ment and they’ll drive by and make sure ev­ery­thing is fine,” she said. “But I don’t want to see Prairie Vil­lage be­ing a place that isn’t ap­peal­ing to young peo­ple or where older peo­ple can’t stay in their homes.”

HOMES SELL­ING IN DAYS

Real es­tate agent Su­san Bowers said it’s not un­usual for homes in John­son County to have mul­ti­ple of­fers within days of be­ing put on the mar­ket.

In large part, home val­ues have been in­creas­ing be­cause the hous­ing stock is unusu­ally lim­ited. In Jan­uary, there were roughly 1,400 homes listed for sale in John­son County, a drop of about 500 from the same month last year.

The me­dian John­son County home sale price has jumped from $195,000 in Jan­uary 2014 to $310,000 this year.

“The sup­ply is just so min­i­mal in our county that it’s cre­at­ing a re­ally hot mar­ket,” Fast said. “Peo­ple in Roe­land Park used to of­ten get to ne­go­ti­ate down. But now peo­ple are adding $20,000 to $30,000 to be able to even land the house be­cause there are so few on the mar­ket.”

That trend has reached the outer most ar­eas of John­son County as well, where there is more land to de­velop. In De Soto, a city that had record new home con­struc­tion last year, the av­er­age home sold for $310,000 last year, al­most a 19% jump from the year be­fore.

In ar­eas of the county where cities are mostly built out, Boisvert said he’s notic­ing a drop in per­mits for new home con­struc­tion. Per­mits are down 12% coun­ty­wide. But, there’s been a jump in apart­ment con­struc­tion, with 4,100 units built this past year. Many apart­ments built through­out John­son County have been la­beled as “lux­ury.”

The de­mand for homes un­der $350,000 is es­pe­cially high, as the county grap­ples with a lack of af­ford­able hous­ing. Many res­i­dents said they are con­cerned that the hous­ing mar­ket is a bar­rier to John­son County be­ing a wel­com­ing and di­verse com­mu­nity.

John­son County and sev­eral of its cities have part­nered to study the af­ford­able hous­ing mar­ket and ways to ad­dress the short­age. Mean­while, the city of Over­land Park is ex­am­in­ing its zon­ing codes, hop­ing to adopt changes that will make it eas­ier for de­vel­op­ers to build small-scale, af­ford­able hous­ing projects.

“We need to be in­ten­tional about our ac­tions and how they af­fect peo­ple of all so­cioe­co­nomic lev­els,” Roe­land Park Mayor Mike Kelly said. “We know we’re a stronger com­mu­nity when we al­low peo­ple to live in Roe­land Park if they work in Roe­land Park or have built this com­mu­nity and been here their whole lives.”

HOME­OWN­ERS PLEAD FOR RE­LIEF

Shocked by their prop­erty tax bills, sev­eral John­son County home­own­ers are ask­ing their cities and county govern­ment for help.

Boisvert said ap­peals are start­ing to pour in, as home­own­ers protest. Last year, 6,000 home­own­ers chal­lenged the county’s ap­praisal, with about 50% re­ceiv­ing a re­duc­tion. So far this year, more than 500 ap­peals have been filed, which Boisvert said is typ­i­cal.

Prairie Vil­lage City Coun­cil­man Tucker Pol­ing said he is hear­ing a lot of com­plaints from home­own­ers who ar­gue their home’s value was de­cided based on an un­fair com­par­i­son.

“In my case, I know one of the homes that was used to com­pare mine sold for what I’m quite cer­tain my house would not sell for. And I’m hear­ing that a lot,” Pol­ing said. “And I’m hear­ing a lot of frus­tra­tion. I very well may ap­peal mine.”

Boisvert said the goal is to value all houses at the value they would sell for on the open mar­ket, com­pared to homes that have sold and are sim­i­lar in age, size and qual­ity. Home ap­praisals are based on an exterior in­spec­tion of homes, al­though home­own­ers may sub­mit in­te­rior pho­tos dur­ing the ap­peal process.

Prop­erty own­ers have un­til March 25 to file an ap­peal with the ap­praiser’s of­fice.

But many, in­clud­ing home­own­ers like Veglahn who have un­suc­cess­fully ap­pealed, ar­gue that’s not enough. They’re hop­ing the ris­ing home ap­praisals mean cities will of­fer some re­lief.

In Roe­land Park, Kelly said the city re­cently started a prop­erty tax as­sis­tance pro­gram, hop­ing to help low-in­come res­i­dents with the ad­di­tional tax bur­den. This year, the city set aside $15,000 for re­bates to el­i­gi­ble home­own­ers.

Res­i­dents in other cities have called for sim­i­lar pro­grams, as well as re­duc­tions to city mill levies. Roe­land Park low­ered its mill levy in both 2018 and 2019. Over­land Park, which has a stronger busi­ness base and has one of the low­est rates, low­ered its prop­erty tax rate this year to 13.566 mills, from 13.557 mills last year.

But higher prop­erty val­ues don’t al­ways mean cities are flush with ex­tra rev­enue. Sev­eral John­son

County cities are fac­ing plung­ing sales tax col­lec­tions. Lead­ers also fear the loom­ing “dark-store the­ory” of com­mer­cial prop­erty val­u­a­tion, which is snaking its way through Kansas courts. Re­tail­ers ar­gue their as­sessed value should be based on an empty store, not the ad­di­tional value of the busi­ness that could be gen­er­ated. If they pre­vail, it could lead to a loss of up to 30% of prop­erty tax rev­enue, county of­fi­cials have es­ti­mated.

“I think that’s some­thing re­ally weigh­ing on ev­ery­one’s minds,” Pol­ing said. “You’re al­ways try­ing to tread that line of be­ing re­spon­sive to res­i­dents and their needs for some type of re­lief, but also be­ing fis­cally re­spon­si­ble with the city bud­get, look­ing down the road at things like the dark store the­ory and po­ten­tial re­duc­tions in sales tax rev­enue.”

As bud­get plan­ning sea­son ap­proaches this spring, Pol­ing said he would like to con­sider low­er­ing mill levies for the need­i­est home­own­ers, rather than an over­all rate cut.

“I don’t know that an across-the-board mill levy re­duc­tion would re­sult in mean­ing­ful tax re­lief for your av­er­age Prairie Vil­lage fam­ily. My con­cern is the ap­proach dis­pro­por­tion­ately ben­e­fits the wealth­i­est in the com­mu­nity,” Pol­ing said. “If I’m a home­owner who owns a $200,000 home, and there is an across-the­board mill cut, the tax re­lief I would get could be one-fifth of some­one who owns a $1 mil­lion home. I don’t think that’s the most eq­ui­table way to ap­proach tax re­lief.”

He wants the tar­geted re­duc­tion rather than “us­ing a butcher knife when a scalpel would be most ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

Oth­ers are push­ing for changes at the state level.

The prob­lem ex­ists across the state as home­own­ers are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about ris­ing prop­erty taxes. Kansans pay more than $5 bil­lion in prop­erty taxes each year — the 18th high­est bur­den among states, ac­cord­ing to a 2019 anal­y­sis by Wal­letHub.

The Kansas Sen­ate voted last month to re­strict lo­cal gov­ern­ments from in­creas­ing the amount of prop­erty tax rev­enue they col­lect with­out a vote. They would also be re­quired to hold a pub­lic hear­ing.

Fast is push­ing for as­sis­tance tar­geted to se­niors on fixed in­comes. She wants the state to ex­pand its Homestead Re­fund pro­gram, which pro­vides se­niors and dis­abled vet­er­ans a re­fund based on a por­tion of their prop­erty taxes. To qual­ify, the to­tal house­hold in­come must be $35,700 or less, which Fast said does not in­clude enough John­son County se­niors.

But for now, John­son County home­own­ers are left to fight their prop­erty ap­praisals and shovel out hun­dreds more on their prop­erty tax bills.

“I think there is a feel­ing that it’s com­pletely out of home­own­ers’ con­trol,” Veglahn said from her Prairie Vil­lage home. “This is the re­al­ity of liv­ing here now. But that re­al­ity is hard to un­der­stand.”

TAMMY LJUNGBLAD tljung­[email protected]­star.com

“I’m work­ing as a cross­ing guard to ba­si­cally pay my taxes,” said Carol Hein, 74, of Roe­land Park, who escorts stu­dents from Rush­ton El­e­men­tary School across the street. Hein, who has lived in Roe­land Park for 38 years, keeps see­ing an in­crease in her prop­erty taxes. “I’m re­tired and at some point, I won’t be able to af­ford the taxes.”

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Source: Kansas City Regional As­so­ci­a­tion of REAL­TORS

NEIL NAKAHODO AND SARAH RIT­TER | THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Source: John­son County, Kansas

TAMMY LJUNGBLAD tljung­[email protected]­star.com

Angie Grady of Mis­sion pushes her grand­son Troy Becker, 4, in a swing at R Park in Roe­land Park. Grady said her home in Mis­sion has seen a $100,000 in­crease in ap­praised value in six years.

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