Do you or your company own real property in Kansas? If so, then challenging your property's tax valuation is more appealing than ever, thanks to the 2014 Kansas Legislature. New legislation provides the opportunity for property tax savings that may not have been available before. However, in order to take advantage of this new legislation you must appeal your 2014 taxes either by continuing the appeal process started this spring or by protesting your taxes at time of payment this December 20.

What has changed?

Traditionally, Kansas property tax valuations could be challenged within 30 days of receiving a valuation notice (usually around March 1 each year) or by protesting your valuation at the time you pay your taxes (typically one-half in December and one-half the following May). Although the general process and timing of tax appeals remains, Senate Bill 231 was passed by the Kansas House (124-0) and the Kansas Senate (26-13) and signed by Governor Brownback. This legislation changes the Court of Tax Appeals (COTA) to a Board of Tax Appeals (BOTA) as part of the legislature's attempt to promote a more open, less formal, more objective and more taxpayer-friendly appeal system. The legislation also establishes new standards for presenting the taxpayer's case and, importantly, the opportunity for a new trial in district court if the taxpayer or the county chooses. The local district court was thought to offer a more objective appeal opportunity. Although no appeal process can guarantee a favorable result, these changes offer taxpayers a better shot at paying their fair share of property taxes, but not more.

Why did these changes happen?

Property tax revenues are a major funding source for city, county, school district and state government. Property owners pay property taxes based on the fair market value of their real property. By law in Kansas, offices, shopping centers, industrial and other commercial properties are taxed at a higher rate than residential properties. Recent COTA decisions had led to increased frustration among taxpayers, particularly businesses, who felt like the opportunity for a fair review of their property's valuation was being lost. The Legislature reacted to a widespread perception that the existing property tax appeals system was unduly cumbersome and unfair by enacting significant changes for how tax appeals will now be handled.

Some governmental units were concerned about more drastic reform proposals and the potential for a negative impact on the property tax base greater than S.B. 231. However, these changes should assist taxpayers in assuring that both their local county appraiser and the state Board of Tax Appeals "get it right" instead of just "getting it done."

Now is the time to consider a tax appeal on property you own, manage or lease.

The safeguards created by S.B. 231 create a better environment for a property owner, manager or tenant to appeal. The process should be smoother and a decision should be reached faster than in the past. In addition, a taxpayer now has the potential to "freeze" a reduced value for 3 years. If the valuation is reduced by an appeal in year 1, the reduced value must be maintained by the county for years 2 and 3 absent "substantial and compelling" evidence to the contrary. Prior law only required maintaining the reduced value for year 2. Kansas units of government will be establishing tax rates in August, tax bills will be mailed in November and the first one-half of property taxes are due to be paid by December 20. Now is the time to analyze your tax valuation in light of the real estate market and to begin planning for a possible appeal.