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The Hillside Cemetery is in the city limits of Sedgwick along 125th North. The cemetery taxing district includes part of Valley Center. A local lawmaker wants to change that.

Double-tax issue resurfaces
By Chris Strunk
Last Updated: April 27, 2017

For 13 years, dozens of property owners in the northwest part of Valley Center have been paying taxes for two cemeteries one in Sedgwick and the other in Valley Center.

It's time that changed, said Rep. Steve Huebert.

Huebert, a Republican Kansas lawmaker who owns a house in the affected area, introduced a bill in the House this session to de-annex those properties from the Hillside Cemetery District.

"It would fix the situation," Huebert said.

The bill received unanimous support in the House (125-0), but was weighed down with amendments before essentially dying in a Senate committee.

Meanwhile, Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who lives in rural Sedgwick, said Huebert's bill blindsided the City of Sedgwick and the cemetery board, which operates Hillside Cemetery, even though the double-tax issue had been brought up to previous Sedgwick city leaders.

McGinn said if the Valley Center properties were removed suddenly, it would hurt the board and city's ability to operate the cemetery.

McGinn pushed for a transition period, giving the board time to adjust to the loss of revenue.

Huebert's legislation called for a change on Jan. 1, 2018. McGinn wants five years.

"I get the part about not wanting to pay a tax for two cemeteries," McGinn said. " But I think the two communities need to pick representatives from both sides and sit down and have a conversation."

Jet Truman, a former Valley Center mayor who is now a member of the Hillside Cemetery board, said the City of Sedgwick and the cemetery board didn't know about Huebert's efforts until after the bill was introduced.

"You have three entities involved and they didn't know anything about it," he said.

Conversation among the groups may begin, however, now that the issue has been ramped up.

Valley Center City Council member Lou Cicirello, who has been a vocal opponent of the double tax, said the groups should work together to remedy the situation. He understood the need for a longer transition period.

Huebert, on the other hand, said the Hillside Cemetery board has had 13 years to recognize and remedy the situation, but nothing has happened. He said the board has a large enough reserve fund to survive any immediate loss of revenue.

Huebert said when the City of Valley Center opened its own cemetery north of town in 2004, the properties in the city limits of Valley Center should have been removed from the Hillside Cemetery District.

Hillside Cemetery derives its operating funds from taxes on property in a district that was created in the 1940s. That district dipped down into a former rural area that is now one of the most densely populated areas in Valley Center. It includes the Valley Meadows subdivision.

Every property owner there pays a small tax that goes to the Hillside Cemetery. This year, it was 2.173 mills. With that levy, the owner of a $150,000 home in the Hillside Cemetery District will pay about $37 in taxes. It's not enough to get too excited about, but it's the principle, Huebert said.

Huebert and others say that the City of Valley Center uses tax money from the same property owners to run its own cemetery.

It's a double-tax, and the fix is simple, Huebert said: De-annex the Valley Center properties.

The impact on the cemetery board and the City of Sedgwick may be more complicated.

In 2016, the cemetery district received more than $98,000 in tax revenues. It also had $11,400 in plot sales, for total revenue of $109,400.

The cemetery spent $106,768 in 2016. It had more than $290,000 in reserves to start 2017.

Among the cemetery's expenses last year was a $60,567 payment to the City of Sedgwick.

Part of that payment was for work that the city did on a new section of the Hillside Cemetery, including box culverts and gravel roads.

The payment also includes reimbursing the city for the work the city clerk does for the cemetery and maintenance done by city crews when the sexton is not working.

If Valley Center properties are de-annexed from the cemetery district, the cemetery could lose about 45 percent of its tax revenue.

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