Valuation increases a two-edged sword
News that property valuations in Leavenworth County are up appreciably can be taken two ways.
It's certainly a welcome sign that the county is becoming more and more attractive as a place for people to call home. Continued development of housing is adding homes to the tax rolls. It is providing jobs for carpenters and craftsmen and keeping Realtors busy. In turn, they're spending their money throughout the community, fueling a healthy economy.
But it also presents potentially troubling signs on several fronts.
Among them is the effect on the county's rural landscape. Family farms are being gobbled up by developers, speeding the transition from a mostly rural to suburban county.
The biggest is the effect on existing property values, which are rising hand-in-hand with the demand for new homes. As homeowners see their property values shoot up, so too can their property taxes - if those valuation increases are not accompanied by mill levy decreases.
Increased property taxes can have an adverse effect on everyone from young people, who can be priced out the market as they look to purchase their first home, to the elderly, who can be forced from their longtime homes because they no longer can afford the annual property tax bill.
But decreasing the mill levy can be a difficult task. Potholes need to be fixed, streets need repaved, sewer lines need replacing. Salaries must increase annually to keep qualified employees in the public sector. Growth fuels the demand for even more public services.
At the same time governing bodies are watching the mill levy, they have to keep an eye cast toward the future. They need to plan today so they're not caught off guard for something that, if unforeseen but necessary, becomes an enormous burden on taxpayers.
The situation makes it incumbent upon the various elected officials to continue to watch the bottom line, make smart decisions about where to spend tax dollars and be sure they're getting the best bang for the tax buck.
The Lansing City Council took a big step in that direction earlier this year when it raised the fees it will charge for hooking onto the city's sewer lines. It's a reasonable move that raises money for the sewer utility without adversely affecting existing users.
Meantime there's other work to be done, the least of which is widening the tax base by luring industrial and commercial development to the county.
To that end, we applaud the efforts of elected officials, the Leavenworth County Development Corp., and the various economic development departments and chambers of commerce throughout the county. We hope the seeds they are sowing will bear more fruit throughout the county. We also hope their pledges to work together for the good of all the county rings true.
Let's be happy property values aren't declining in Leavenworth County. But let's work to see that valuation increases don't overly burden residential property owners.