(The Center Square) – Some Olathe residents are requesting changes in the way home developments are funded after being hit with tax bills for residing in what's known as a "benefit district."
"A benefit district is a proposed new development area in which a city’s infrastructure costs – like streets and sewer – are passed on to the residents of the district," Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, told The Center Square. "The boundaries are determined on a case-by-case basis when a developer submits a proposal to build a new subdivision. Buyers are supposed to be notified before purchasing, but some contend that isn’t always happening."
Benefit districts have been used in Kansas for decades. New residents who have purchased existing homes in benefit districts are saying they were not told about the benefit district nor its obligations, or if they were, it was buried somewhere in the mountain of paperwork.
"The fight is about the alleged lack of transparency that leads to taxes being much higher than expected," Trabert said. "Cities say it isn’t fair to pass on the costs of new infrastructure to other homeowners. But the benefit district practice makes it easier on the developer; the price of homes in the new subdivision would be much higher if the developer had to recoup the infrastructure costs."
State Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, told The Center Square there are some portions of the Cedar Creek development in Olathe where homes were built, people have been living in them, perhaps even multiple owners, but that particular area wasn't a benefit district. But by adding more homes down the road and looking at expanding a road, it becomes a new benefit district and residents who've been there ask why they're being charged an additional tax.
"Kansans' concern is, part of the reason a particular road is being widened is so that emergency vehicles, medical-evacuation vehicles, law enforcement, the fire department can have access," Baumgardner said. "Why would it just be those people's responsibility when the entire tax base of the city pays for safety and those types of features?"
Residents of Cedar Creek are requesting that benefit districts no longer be used, encouraging local governments and developers to find new ways to provide infrastructure without unfairly taxing residents.
"People are saying the developer's getting his things paid off, the city isn't having to budget for expanding a road, and the burden is being put on a select few," Baumgardner said. "Some of these are an annual responsibility of $10,000 to $15,000 to $18,000, and that's nothing to blink at, so people are obviously up in arms."