Tax Commission.In Kansas the problems connected with assessment and taxation are similar to those in other states which have a general property tax. The constitution of the state requires the legislature to "provide for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation, but all property used exclusively for state, county, municipal, literary, educational, scientific, religious, benevolent and charitable purposes, and personal property to the amount of at least $200, for each family, shall be exempt from taxation."
In 1876 the legislature revised the law of taxation, and the code enacted at that time remained unchanged, except as amended in minor matters, until 1907. The law of 1876 was framed to conform to the requirements of the constitution, and contained the usual provisions to insure the assessment of all taxable property, of whatever kind or character, at its actual value. It is well known that the assessment of property at its real value was rarely observed, and the loose methods of assessment became so flagrant that for several years prior to 1907 a reform of the system was advocated. The legislature of 1907 responded to this demand and enacted a law supplementary to the one then existing. It also provided for the creation of a tax commission to "succeed and take the place of the board of railroad assessors, and the state board of equalization." The commission is composed of three members appointed by the governor, by and with the consent of the senate, for a term of four years. While serving in this capacity they cannot hold other office under the Federal or state government. The commissioners are expected to devote their whole time to the duties of the office and receive a salary of $2,500 each. They appoint a secretary, who receives a salary of not more than $2,000, a clerk, who receives a salary of $1,200, and such other expert assistants are employed as are necessary to perform the work of the commission.
Under the new law the board of county commissioners of each county is authorized to appoint a county assessor to have supervision of the county assessment, with authority to appoint deputy assessors subject to the approval of the board of county commissioners. The law requires him to appoint the duly elected township trustees as deputy assessors, but such appointment may be disapproved by the county commissioners, thus providing a means of rejecting incompetent persons.
The tax commission is given great power over assessment and in other matters relating to the assessment and taxation of property. It is required to provide a uniform method of keeping the tax rolls and records in each county in the state; to formulate and send to the proper officers in each county all necessary forms to be used in listing return of property and collection of taxes; to visit from time to time each county in the state for the purpose of requiring the assessment and return of property at a uniform value, the use of forms and system of keeping accounts provided for by the commission, etc. At least once in two years the county assessors must meet with the commission at the state capitol to consider in general matters connected with assessment and taxation. The system of taxation throught the state is entrusted to the commission, which is given power to make all investigations necessary to enable it to recommend improvements of the system to the legislature. Power of supervision is also given over township and city assessors, boards of county commissioners, county boards of equalization, and other boards of levy and assessment, to the end that all assessments of property, real or personal, shall be made relatively uniform and at the true cash value.
The members of the tax commission ex-officio constitute the state board of railroad assessors, the state board of appraisers and the state board of equalization, and are charged with the assessment of all property, railroad, telegraph, telephone, pipe-line, express, sleeping car, private lines and street railroad companies, and in general the property of all public corporations, which render inter-county or inter-state service. The state board of equalization is a court of last appeal for persons aggrieved by the action of the county board of equalization.
On March 7, 1907, the governor appointed and the state confirmed the appointments of the three members of the tax commission, but as the law was not to take effect until the succeeding July 1 the commission was not organized and did not commence work until that date. Immediately upon taking office the commission, acting as the state board of equalization, began the work of adjusting the assessment of all property for 1907. A series of forms for assessment rolls of both real and personal property were prepared and sent to the county clerks of each county; circular letters were mailed to the county clerks and to the boards of county commissioners, explaining the required change in the methods of assessment, with instructions as to the procedure to follow.
Pursuant to the law the county assessors met with the tax commission at Topeka on Jan. 28, 1908, and this meeting was important because from it came, in a great measure, the inspiration which controlled the assesors in their work of supervision and assessment. The assessment of property and franchises belonging to railroad, telegraph, telephone, and express companies, and other public service corporations, was determined only after a very careful consideration, of all elements that combine to make up actual money value.
In July, 1908, acting as the state board of equalization, the commission began the work of the equalizing assessments. There were 127 appeals filed, many of them involving large sums, which brought many perplexing questions before the board, and it was the end of July before the equalization was finished. The commission fixed the state tax levy at .9 of a mill, which provided for the state revenue the sum of $2,203,561.18. In 1904 the Federal census bureau estimated the true value of property in Kansas at the sum of $2,253,224,243, but the assessment that year of all property in the state aggregated only $372,673,858. When the assessed values of 1907, which amounted to $425,281,214, are compared with those of 1908, which amounted to $2,451,560,397, it will be seen that the assessment of 1907 equals only 17.34 per cent. of that in 1908, due to the changed plan of assessment put into operation under the commission, for inequalities were everywhere present under the old system. As an example of this inequality the property for one manufacturing corporation had been valued by a local assessor for several successive years at $30,000, but under the spur of the tax commission the property of this corporation was assessed in 1908 at $1,100,000. On another corporation the assessment was raised from $100,000 to $1,107,000, and another result of the assessment of 1908 was to place on the tax roll personal property to the value of $213,591,148 which had never before been listed for taxation.Pages 797-799 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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