By Murrel Bland

More than 50 persons crowded into a conference room at the downtown Chamber of Commerce office Friday morning, April 13. It was the monthly meeting of the Legislative Committee. One of the chief concerns among those attending was the very significant increase in commercial property values.

One “horror story” was that of a property owner in the Fairfax Industrial District whose value shot up from $300,000 to $750,000. The concern of this property owner and others with significant valuations is that they will have to pay substantially higher property taxes.

One such property owner said his increase could be the difference whether he would add any new employees.

When I first started to cover the Wyandotte County Assessor’s office in the 1960s, it was during the reign of Charlie Sugar, arguably the most powerful political and public office in town. I was told by longtime court house observers that the way to get your assessment lowered was to go into Charlie Sugar’s office with your checkbook.

When I was doing research for The 50s in Wyandotte County book, I reviewed the official records of county commissioners’ records. I found numerous examples of property valuation reductions due to “clerical error.”

Charlie Sugar controlled 30,000 Democratic votes and was on a first-name basis with national political figures including Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

Sugar’s political empire came tumbling down when a political gadfy from the Argentine community, Paulene Clifton, was a source of an investigative newspaper article in The Kansas City Star. That led to the election of a Republican Assessor. However, he only served for one term. Julius Novak, a Democratic reformer was elected assessor; his deputy was Norm Schoneman.

Along the way, the Kansas Legislature had the sense to change the law so that the assessor (we now call that person an appraiser) is appointed. The Wyandotte County Appraiser is nominated by the County Administrator and the County Clerk; he or she must then be approved by the Unified Commissioners.

Being appraiser is not an easy job. The appraisal staff is limited and not that well paid. It is a constant battle to keep property value in compliance.

Property owners have the right to protest their assessments. However, that takes time and, can be expensive if a property owner has to hire outside counsel.

One of the important things that I expressed to the Legislative Committee is that although property values may increase, ultimately the amount that elected officials approve in dollars is what will affect tax bills. Elected officials need to hold the line on spending. Just because values jump up is no reason to run up spending.

The consensus at the meeting was that Kathy Briney, the Wyandotte County Appraiser for about the last three years, is doing a reasonably good job. She is accessible and professional.

Taxes you and I pay are the price we pay for a civilized society. I agree with that. I also believe that the power to tax is the power to destroy.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.