$356,270 is Jackson County’s favorite assessment number. Why that might be wrong.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - It appears $356,270 is a magical number in Jackson County. That’s the dollar amount assessed to more than 500 homes.
The homes assessed at that value are various sizes and shapes, in various locations throughout the county. It’s a value that hasn’t been used in the last 5 years of assessments.
“I wonder how they picked that number?” Richard Meyers, homeowner, asked.
Meyers recently moved to Sugar Creek. He paid around $100,000 for the home, so he was surprised to open his assessment and see it valued at $356,270.
His home is around 800 square feet. The county should have recorded the sale price.
“Should have just stayed in Clay County,” Meyers said. “Somebody did not check this.”
Meyers knows what he’s talking about. He used to be a numbers guy for a big Kansas City corporation.
“They just took the data from the third-party vendor and said, ‘okay, looks good!’” Meyers said. He appealed, and the assessment was adjusted to about what he paid for the property.
Meyers is not alone.
Ruby Smith’s initial assessment on her Independence home also hit that magic number.
“Oh, hell no! That was exactly my first thought,” Smith told us.
The value of her home went from $58,000 to $356,270.
She, too, is a recent buyer.
“They are not really doing their jobs,” said Smith.
She also appealed and won. Her assessment was adjusted to $120,000.
KCTV5 documented numerous examples of homeowners assigned that specific value winning their appeals by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Data expert cracked $356,270
Data expert Preston Smith (no relation to Ruby) believes $356,270 is an error on some assessments.
“You know, I think there is some just letting the algorithm run wild,” said Preston Smith
Smith has 31 years of high-level data analysis experience. He’s hired by public school districts to analyze data and find problems. He says he found one in the Jackson County Assessment—and it wasn’t hard.
“I mean, this was a thing that I picked up on about three or four hours of looking at it,” said Smith. “This is not hard to do.”
KCTV5 sent multiple crews out, to knock on doors throughout the county. We met homeowners who could finish our sentences. They knew the county sent out assessments that were off by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Did physical inspections really take place?
Almost every homeowner we spoke with questioned if physical inspections really took place. It’s required by state statute.
The requirement is spelled out in two subsections:
10. Before the assessor may increase the assessed valuation of any parcel of subclass (1) real property by more than fifteen percent since the last assessment, excluding increases due to new construction or improvements, the assessor shall conduct a physical inspection of such property.
12. A physical inspection, as required by subsection 10 of this section, shall include, but not be limited to, an on-site personal observation and review of all exterior portions of the land and any buildings and improvements to which the inspector has or may reasonably and lawfully gain external access, and shall include an observation and review of the interior of any buildings or improvements on the property upon the timely request of the owner pursuant to subsection 11 of this section. Mere observation of the property via a drive-by inspection or the like shall not be considered sufficient to constitute a physical inspection as required by this section.
We found vacant properties, homes that lacked driveways and an empty lot.
The owner of the empty lot purchased it for $25,000. The home burned down and was removed years ago. The Jackson County parcel viewer shows old photos from when the house did exist.
It’s obviously an empty lot if you simply go to the property and look, like the assessment department was supposed to have done.
KCTV5 contacted the homeowner who was surprised to hear the value is $356,270. The deadline has closed for appeals. She questions what her options are to address the error.
Amanda Barron is in the same situation.
She purchased a two-bedroom, one bathroom home in Independence in November. She lives out of town, working on an oil rig. She didn’t see her assessment.
The last assessment on the property was $36,000 before it hit the magic number.
KCTV5 Investigates found several examples of questionable values:
- $6,650 to $356,270
- $59,000 to $356,270
- $29,000 to $356,270
- $40,000 to $356,270
- 36,000 to $356,270
If you do simple math and check homes valued at $356,270, you’ll find that group of homes jumped an average of 168.3% in assessment value. That’s more than five times the 30% the county claims the average assessments increased.
“When you see those giant percentage changes, and it was just so obvious, but they’re all associated with that one number,” Preston Smith said.
Smith went on to look for homeowners hitting that magic number who didn’t appeal, but probably should have. He’s contacting them now because, although it’s too late to appeal in Jackson County, he believes the county should look into this issue and fix it.
More than half of the properties valued at $356,270 have not been appealed.
Smith also advocates the Board of Equalization or the state step in to address what he calls a problematic assessment.
Jackson County Response
KCTV5 sent several emails and text messages to Jackson County requesting an in-person interview with Assessment Director, Gail McCann Beatty.
The information was clearly received by the county. One text message reads “Followed up with the team. I’ll be in touch.” But no one ever responded about the information we were seeking.
We asked the assessment department specific questions about what we found.
- How do more than 500 homes in all shapes and sizes in different locations assess at 356,270?
- Did you physically inspect all of these homes and can you show proof including date and time.
- How did this value become a favorite number in the assessment? Is this the result of computer mass appraisal?
We haven’t had a response to any of the questions.
Thousands of property owners have questions regarding their assessments. A record number of 54,539 appeals were filed before the deadline. Our reporting has shown there are countless others who could make a good case.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has called the most recent tax assessment a “crisis” and Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick announced his office is investigating complaints.
Yet, through it all, County Executive Frank White has defended County Assessor Gail McCann Beatty, and she, in turn has defended Tyler Technologies, the out-of-state contractor that helped with the assessment.
“Was it perfect? No, it was never going to be,” McCann Beatty said previously. “”Mass appraisal is not a perfect system. We are working through any challenges that we have.”
The problem, say many affected by the chaos, is that burden of the proof to show an assessment is wrong lies with the homeowner, not the county.
On Monday, the Jackson County Legislature is expected to weigh in. Members will likely vote on a proposal to authorize a state audit of the 2023 assessment.
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