Monday, September 01, 2014

Tyson: Extension districts shouldn’t have tax authority

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 3/5/2014

Extension districts could raise local property taxes if a bill in the Kansas Senate doesn’t pass, Caryn Tyson said.

Senate Bill 411, as amended, would require multi-county extension districts established pursuant to KSA 2-625 to get county commission approval from each county in the district when an increase in the extension district budget occurs, according to a summary of the bill. The bill would remove the taxing authority from extension districts and put it in the hands of the county commissions within an extension district.

Extension districts could raise local property taxes if a bill in the Kansas Senate doesn’t pass, Caryn Tyson said.

Senate Bill 411, as amended, would require multi-county extension districts established pursuant to KSA 2-625 to get county commission approval from each county in the district when an increase in the extension district budget occurs, according to a summary of the bill. The bill would remove the taxing authority from extension districts and put it in the hands of the county commissions within an extension district.

The bill came out of the Committee on Assessment and Taxation, in which state Sen. Tyson, R-Parker, serves as vice chair, and now is being heard on the Senate floor.

The reasoning for the bill stems from 2013 when the Kansas State Extension saw budget cuts, Tyson said, and extension districts were allowed to consider raising the mill levies in the counties they serve, which in turn would raise property taxes.

“When it was brought to my attention, it was that constituents were concerned it was going to be another taxing authority,” Tyson said.

An extension district’s mill levy currently has no cap, Tyson said, and the proposed Senate bill would make sure such mill levy decisions would be up to the county commissioners within each district.

Statewide, mill levies of the extension districts have stayed the same, and even in some cases decreased, Daryl Buchholz, associate director for extension at Kansas State University, said.

Once a district gets settled and has optimized efficiencies and effectiveness, the mill levy for the district goes down, he said.

“The efficiencies and effectiveness we gain into moving into that model allows us to hold mill levies constant and doesn’t change hardly at all,” Buchholz said. “Maybe a little fluctuation up or down, but long-term trends are flat.”

For each district, county commissioners appoint four board members to represent them on the district board, Buchholz said, then comes an election process where board members are elected every other year.

The reason districts are able to keep the mill levy flat, or even decrease it, is because of the elected board members, Fran Richmond, Frontier Extension District director, told members of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Wednesday morning.

“The trend over time [for mill levies] has gone down, and that’s because of the financial stewardship of the elected board because our boards are elected at elections,” Richmond said.

Richmond presented information Wednesday morning to commissioners about SB 411 and how it would affect both county commissions and extension districts if the bill passes.

One portion of the bill that could cause problems involves the districts that include more than one county, Richmond said. The bill would require all counties in a district to come to an agreement on a district’s budget, she added.

“I guess it’ll be more difficult passing a budget with every county in the district,” she said. “Some of the districts have five counties, and that’s a problem. It will be more difficult to work with multiple county commissions.”

Buchholz agreed, saying, “I think county commissioners would say ‘I don’t have interest in what goes on across [the other] counties.’ That’s why we have that elected board — that what we’re doing as a district is being done in an efficient and effective manner.

“Our greatest concern and belief is that over time that amount of confusion and difficulty it would be to work through that whole process [of passing a budget] that eventually it would dismantle extension districts. If that took place, it negates all the positive things that have happened, and we think we’ve made tremendous strides.”

K-State Research and Extension extends resources and addresses public needs with university resources through non-formal, non-credit programs. Programs are largely administered through county extension offices that bring land-grant university expertise to the local level, according to the K-State Extension website. Extension agents help farmers grow crops, help families plan safe and nutritious meals, and help children acquire the necessary skills to become tomorrow’s leaders through 4-H and other youth development programs, the website said.

Tyson said the process wouldn’t be as difficult as extension district officials were expecting, noting each county commission would just have to approve its portion of the extension district’s budget.

Commissioners from extension districts have spoken against the bill, Buchholz said, and he hopes the opposition is enough to derail the bill.

“I think it’s evident we’re concerned about [SB 411] and pleased that many of our county commissioners who currently reside in counties where districts have been in place for a number of years, that they’re the voices that have come forward,” he said. “I’m pleased they’re responding in that way. It’s another piece of evidence from our perspective that our local boards are doing a good job and keeping commissions informed on what’s going on.”

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