JoCo BOCC raise taxes again…but not unanimously

by Will Hoerl

On Aug 31st, the JoCo Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted to raise taxes for property owners in Johnson County. (see JoCo 2024 Budget mtg 08/31)   

This 2024 tax increase comes on the heels of 2023’s rather significant tax increase; which, fueled by a large jump in appraisal values, had many JoCo homeowners upset.

(for details on the 2024 budget see this FreeState News article)
(for official JoCo BOCC 2024 data see this link JoCo BOCC Budget)

Earlier this summer, the BOCC voted 5-2 to declare its intent to “exceed the revenue neutral rate”,  a process required by Kansas State legislation that obligates local governments to notify taxpayers of potential tax increases, and hold a public hearing before voting on the final budget.   

The “Revenue Neutral Rate” is the term used to describe a process of leaving the effective tax rate ‘flat’ or ‘neutral’ which results in property owners not getting a property tax increase and governments not taking in even $1 more in property tax revenue.  

Commissioners Charlotte O’Hara and Michael Ashcraft voiced concerns about increasing property taxes and the negative impact of that on Johnson County homeowners and voted against exceeding the revenue-neutral rate. They were overridden on the vote to go forward with “intent to exceed Revenue Neutral”. 

During the Aug 21st Public Hearing, (see BOCC Public Mtg 08-21) a high-level Johnson County budget was presented to the public, and public comment was required by law. The board room was full (overflow seating required).   

Some citizens supported the tax increase, but most of the public speakers were emphatically against exceeding the revenue-neutral rate and raising taxes.  Several speakers noted that even though the BOCC touted a small ‘mill levy reduction’ for 2024, the tax calculation is based on the most recent appraisal,  which for many homeowners is significantly higher. This means the actual tax paid (even when using the proposed BOCC ‘reduced’ mill levy for 2024) results in a higher property tax for 2024 than was levied in 2023.
NOTE:   A ‘reduction’ in mill levy does NOT automatically mean a reduction or even ‘holding even’ on actual taxes paid. The mill levy reduction must be sufficient enough to offset the increase in appraisal value.  


In the Aug 31st final budget resolution discussion, both O’Hara and Ashcraft spoke (again) about the negative impact of the recent (significant) property tax increases on Johnson County homeowners, businesses, and especially the elderly and those who live on fixed incomes.   

Commissioner O’Hara spoke at length about the negative impacts of higher property taxes, and O’Hara made note of the many TIF programs (Tax Increment Financing) in Johnson County and PILOT’s (payment in lieu of taxes) that shield some developments from paying their share of property taxes. O’Hara says this is a separate problem from the immediate issue of whether or not to increase 2024 property taxes,  but the issuance of so many TIF exemptions exacerbates the pressure on property owners who are not shielded by property tax abatements.  

Commissioner Ashcraft echoed O’Hara’s concerns and offered a floor amendment to the budget resolution that would use some of the current budget reserves to offset a portion of the budget increase. This would reduce the tax impact on JoCo property owners and allow the current budget to go through ‘as is’. The reserve funds Ashcraft suggested using were SLFRF (State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds), Covid relief money, sent to JoCo from the Federal government.   

Commissioner Fast spoke at length about voters in her district that had been hit hard by property taxes over the last couple of years. Fast expressed concern over the amount of the 2024 tax increase, and suggested that the Johnson County budget could, and should, be reduced.   

Fast made a separate floor amendment, suggesting ‘doubling’ the amount of mill levy reduction from 0.25 (1/4 mill) to 0.50 (1/2 mill). Commissioner Fast noted that in recent years, Johnson County has (in some instances) found ways to save money, find efficiencies, and reduce costs. Fast pointed out that the cost of her suggested proposal is modest (about $3 million) which is a small amount compared to the total budget of $1.7 billion. Fast said she “firmly believes” this reduction could be achieved without resulting in “loss of services”.     

Both floor amendments were challenged by Chairman Kelly, Commissioner Hanzlick, Commissioner Allenbrand, and Commissioner Meyers. After discussion, (some of it animated) both floor motions were denied.  

Eventually, the 2024 tax increase was passed as presented.

KOMA (Kansas Open Meetings Act)

The last agenda item was a vote to approve the “BOCC Joint Response to a Kansas Open Meetings Act Complaint“. In a June 29th BOCC meeting, chairman Kelly closed the public meeting unexpectedly and out of sync with the written agenda and moved the Johnson County BOCC into a closed “executive session” to discuss the 2024 budget items related to the county manager’s salary, prior to the open meeting discussion on the proposed $15.3 million annual salary increase for staff.

At that meeting, commissioners O’Hara, Ashcraft, and Fast spoke out against the move to a closed session, saying that the budget item should be discussed in an open meeting. The vote that day was 4-3 (Kelly, Hanzlick, Allenbrand, Meyers) voting to move to “closed executive session,  and O’Hara, Ashcraft, and Fast voting “no” (that the meeting should stay open and public).  

A complaint was later filed with the Kansas Attorney General’s office, saying that the ‘closed executive session’ violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA.) Thursday’s vote was to discuss and approve the BOCC “joint response” to that complaint.   The response was created by the lead council, Peg Trent, who interviewed all concerned and put together the “joint response” to the Attorney General’s requests.

Commissioners Fast, Ashcraft, and O’Hara had problems with the response, which even after discussion, were not alleviated. The vote was 4-3 to approve the County’s response to the Attorney General’s request, with Kelly, Hanzlick, Allenbrand, and Meyers voting “yes” and O’Hara,  Ashcraft, and Fast voting “no”.


There are several ‘takeaways’ from the August 31st budget session. 

  • Commissioners O’Hara,  Ashcraft, and Fast were the only county commissioners to attempt to reduce tax increases in 2024.   They offered various options and amendments, none of which could get past the 3-4 vote.
  • Commissioner O’Hara, Ashcraft, and Fast all spoke about TIF (tax increment financing) and the negative impact those tax shields have on Johnson County, and by extension the impact those have on each yearly budget. O’Hara has been vocal on this issue over several meetings. On Thursday, Fast joined that discussion (during the agenda item on Fire District budgets) and pointed out that TIF exemptions in her [Becky Fast’s] district have placed a heavier burden on homeowners.
  • Kansas Open Meetings: O’Hara, Ashcraft, and Fast were the three original dissenting voices against Chairman Kelly moving the budget item into closed session, and again during Thursday’s meeting, they were the three dissenting voices not agreeing to the “joint response” to be filed with the AG.   

Even a casual observation of the three commissioners (O’Hara, Ashcraft, Fast) reveals that they occupy different spots on the political spectrum. Fast’s northern JoCo district has a much different political population than either Ashcraft or O’Hara. It is older, with infrastructure and population issues that neither O’Hara nor Ashcraft have.

O’Hara has some unincorporated areas of JoCo, along with newer suburban areas.  

Ashcraft’s district tends to match neither the older parts of northern JoCo, nor the more rural southern parts of the 3rd district.   

That these three commissioners found common ground on trying to reduce the 2024 budget, and found common ground insisting that the BOCC should have ‘open meetings’ and transparency, suggests that many Johnson County voters would agree with them.   

It remains to be seen how much (or even if) the current BOCC direction of increased taxes, increased spending, and decreased transparency, will irritate Johnson County voters. However, it does give hope that 3 of Johnson County’s commissioners have found ways to get past partisan politics and try to operate in the public interest.  

As for Meyers and Allenbrand, who voted for higher taxes and less transparency, the 2024 elections are coming soon. 

As one public speaker, Tim McCabe said during public comments, (see 2hr 57min into the 08/31 live stream)
Commissioners,  I believe your judgment is poor,  your financial discernment is political”. 

“Commissioner Meyers, you are my commissioner but you do not represent me”.   

“Commissioner Allenbrand, you are a Democrat who campaigned as a Republican. 

“You [the BOCC] signed this budget today, and it will seal your fate in 2024”.  

Only time will tell if Mr. McCabe’s prediction will come true.   


  1. “Finally, someone said it! ” Commissioner Allenbrand, you are a Democrat who campaigned as a Republican.” you know with all her spare change.

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