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Guide to Understanding Property Taxes

So, what's a mill? What's ad valorem? And what's the difference between appraised and assessed value?

Confused? Don't be. Let's break it down ...

Who You Pay Taxes To

When you think about property taxes, maybe the image of City Hall comes to mind. Perhaps it's your kids' school. If you're a property owner within Atchison city limits, you pay property taxes to the City of Atchison, County of Atchison, USD 409, Atchison Public Library, Recreation Commission, White Clay Watershed District, and the State of Kansas.

Each of these organizations has the statutory authority - and obligation- to charge property taxes for access to public services. Each organization does this by setting a mill levy, a standard taxing measurement equal to one-tenth of a cent ($0.001). Each organization sets its mill independently of the others, based on its planned services, expected expenses, and its desired revenue.

So, if the city sets its mill levy at 50 mills, that means for every $1.00 of assessed valuation on your home, you pay $0.05.

In 2016, here are the property tax rates assessed to Atchison property owners:





School District




Rec Commission








What's ad valorem?

Ad valorem is a fancy what of saying property tax, basically the same thing.

What's the difference between assessed and appraised valuation?

Did you know that you aren't actually taxed on the full value of your home? It's true.

Appraised Value

Property tax is figured by a formula using assessed and appraised valuation. First, finding the appraised value ... Each county in Kansas has an Appraiser's Office and it's the County Appraiser's job to set a value for the worth of your home for tax purposes - the appraised value. To do this, the appraiser uses the most up-to-date information on record about your property as well as market and data trends.

Unless your home has recently been bought or sold, your appraised value normally lags behind the fair market value -what a realtor would suggest selling your home for if it was for sale. That's typical, not to worry; it's actually in your favor.


Assessed Value

Property taxes are based on the assessed value, which is found by taking the appraised value of your property and multiplying it by the assessment rate, which is set by state law and based on the kind of property you own (commercial, residential, agricultural, etc.).

Residential properties in Kansas are assessed (charged taxes) at a rate of 11.5% of their home's appraised value. So, if your home is appraised at $100,000, your assessed value is $11,500. Did you catch that? You only pay taxes on $11,500 of your property's worth. Here's where the mill levy comes in....

Calculating Your Property Taxes

To find how much taxes you've got to pay (your tax obligation), take your total local mill levy multiplied by .001, then multiplied by your assessed value.

So, using our example of a $100,000 home, multiply it by the assessment rate of 11.5% to get $11,500. Then take the total local mill levy of 172.556 mills multiplied by .001 to get 0. 172556.Then multiply the two numbers together and you end up with$1,984.39, which is how much you paid in taxes in 2016 for each $100,000 of a home in Atchison. Like this ...

Appraised Home Value


Assessment Rate

x 11.5%

Assessed Value


Mills (per 1000th)

x 0.172556

Total Local Property Taxes Due:


How much of my taxes go to the city?

Great question. The percentages vary from year to year, but generally fall within a few mills of the year before. In 2016, $1,984.39 was split up like this ...

For each $100,000 of appraised value, this organization ...

Got this much...

The City


The County


The School District


The Library


The Rec Commission


The Watershed District


The State


Are property taxes the only way the City of Atchison gets revenue?

No. The city relies heavily on property tax because it is stable and predictable, which is important if your budgeting as far in advance as cities do. But cities also receive a small percentage of local sales taxes (most of the sales tax goes to the state) as well as franchise fees paid by private utility companies for the privilege of using public rights-of-way to do business (like electricity, gas, telephone lines, etc.).

Cities also receive revenue through user fees, permit and licensing fees, fines and penalties, enterprise funds (public utilities), project and program grants, and dwindling state revenue sharing. In government economics, each organization should only take in as much revenue as they need to cover the expenses of providing public services back to you - the public. And each organization should carefully plan expenditures (the personnel, commodities, contract services) so that they don't exceed the expected annual revenue.

Professionally managed public organizations like the city employ skilled financial managers who forecast revenues a year in advance using historical data to calculate trends. These professionals also facilitate an open, transparent budget process to coordinate expenditures with the levels of service set by the governing body.

Anticipated expenditures must not exceed expected revenues, striking a fine balance between having enough to be responsibly sustainable but not so much that the community is being taxed unnecessarily. Financial staff also monitor and manage expenditures throughout the fiscal year to make sure the organization stays on-track with its revenues and expenditures - its budget.

Are property taxes too high?

Ever hear the expression, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? “Similarly, this age-old tax question is all about perception.

Atchison's current property taxes support the levels of services you receive from these organizations. If you want more services, it may mean paying more property taxes. If you want less taxes, it may mean making do with less services. Everyone's preferences and perceptions are different.

What we do know is that Atchison's city property tax rate is middle of the pack compared to other mid-size cities in Kansas.(We can only speak to city property tax, because we're just one of seven entities that impact your overall property tax obligation.)

If you want to check out other cities' property tax rate, be sure to calculate their per capita taxes in order to compare apples to apples. Mill levy alone won't tell you much; population size has a big influence on how much each resident pays. The more people there are, the more people are paying taxes, the more a single mill generates, the lower the mill levy needs to be.

For example, Overland Park, Kansas (pop. 173,372)has a lower mill levy than Atchison (pop. 11,021). But per capita Overland Park residents pay more in city property taxes than an Atchison resident does. Tricky, yes?

We believe Atchison's rates aren't so low that they jeopardize public services, but they aren't so high that they gouge taxpayers. Taxes and public services will always be a work in progress because it's such a delicate balance between "too much" and "not enough," and a lot of people are vying to define what those definitions are. We’re always tinkering, always evaluating whether city services meet the community's needs, whether our revenue streams are balanced, and whether there's enough to support the levels of services you expect.