The tax rate currently stands at 30% of the vessel's value multiplied by the county's mill levy. That can add up to nearly a thousand dollars on a boat that only cost $18,000 to purchase, according to boat salesmen.
State legislators are asking Kansans to vote to change the state constitution this November. The result would be an opportunity to lower taxes on boats and other watercraft, which boaters say would be good news for all Kansans.
The amendment itself is simple. It changes the date and adds the words "and watercraft" to a 1992 state amendment that allowed lawmakers to change how they tax recreational vehicles. RVs are now no longer taxed based on their fair market value, but rather on their age and weight. Boaters hope this new amendment will lead to similar changes for them and say the lower rate would actually bring more money into the state.
"The state's losing out on revenues that they should be getting because boats are either used outside the state or registered outside the state," said boater Gene Nold. "We're having to make it up in other ways."
Nold has been boating for decades and teaches sailing classes at El Dorado Lake. He's not alone in his estimation. According to the state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism 4,507 boats from Kansas are registered in Oklahoma alone. That's not counting Arkansas and Missouri, the two other popular states among Kansas boaters. They push the boats registered out of state over 10,000.
"We have one of the best manufacturers here, in Cobalt, in Kansas," said Nold, talking about Cobalt Boats in Neodesha, Kansas. "But we have very few Cobalt boats in the state because of the rate of the property taxes."
It's not only hurting the state budget, and the rest of Kansas taxpayers who have to help make up the difference. It's also hurting Kansas businesses that sell, repair or support boats, like marinas and storage facilities. If boats aren't bought here, or don't stay here, those locally owned and operated enterprises can't survive.
That's why state lawmakers put a similar proposal on the ballot in 2000. It failed by less than 12,000 votes. Nold blames a misconception about boating.
"People feel that if they can afford that, a big boat, they can afford the taxes. When it's really the young families that are hurt the worst because they can't afford to get into the sport."
The high taxes can make even the cheapest of boats, the bread and butter of Kansas boating businesses, too expensive to own.
"A very small boat can cost you $3,000 to $5,000. And you will pay $400 to $500 a year in property taxes," added Nold. "That's probably ten times what it would cost you in the surrounding states."
Even if the amendment passes in November, it doesn't guarantee an immediate change in the tax rates. It would just give lawmakers the legal ability to change how boats are taxed. When the RV amendment passed in the 90's it took two years before taxes actually went down.
The state Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism estimates the number of boaters registered and operating in kansas has dropped by more than 15% in the last decade.
The money collected from boat taxes goes into local school budgets and the state building fund, among other accounts.Voters to decide on Constitutional Amendment.