Did required physical inspections really take place in Jackson County? Experts and homeowners weigh in.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - From million-dollar houses that mysteriously drop in value to empty lots valued at more than $300,000, it’s the No. 1 question haunting Jackson County: Did anyone actually take a look?
Homeowners have a theory about those required physical inspections — they didn’t really happen.
A property owner we talked to in Blue Springs has identical duplexes right next to each other.
They are even painted the same color. Somehow, they have different values.
“I’d fire them in a minute,” said John Welchert.
Mass appraisal expert weighs in
Marlene Jeffers is a mass appraisal expert with 40 years of experience. Years ago, she worked directly with Jackson County’s Assessment Department. She’s familiar with the software and process.
Jeffers said it should be easy for the county to prove they did proper inspections due to tracking software.
“It’s sending ping, ping, ping back to the database,” said Jeffers. “Telling the software, ‘I’m here: I’m here!’”
The software automatically leaves a digital trail. Jeffers said most counties want to have that proof.
“They want to document, document, document,” said Jeffers. “Because they want to have an answer when you come in, ‘You were never on my property.’ ‘Oh yes, I was. See, here I am.’ They can tell how long someone is at a house. They can tell where they go next.”
Jeffers believes it wouldn’t take long to figure out if an assessor was at the house because there would be proof in the program.
“It’s that simple because there’s that flag in there,” said Jeffers.
She also estimates it would take about 20-30 minutes for the computer to reveal time and location stamps at all Jackson County parcels thus ending the murky debate about what the county really did.
Jeffers told KCTV5 Investigates this is the most troubled assessment she’s ever seen in the nation.
There’s no doubt that doing an assessment for a county as big as Jackson County is a huge undertaking. In a Sept. 6, 2022 interview on KCTV5, Gail McCann Beatty explained the careful process that would take place at each parcel.
“We are sending staff out to go to each and every one of those,” said McCann Beatty, the Jackson County assessor. “We want to have the most accurate data in our new system.”
The county even provided KCTV5 a video showing employees carefully measuring homes, and even knocking on doors.
The video shows notices being left behind if you aren’t there, employees take notes and document everything.
KCTV5 requested an on-camera interview with director Gail McCann Beatty. That request was deflected and limited information was sent by a spokesperson:
- Parcel reviews: Each parcel in the county was visited and photo(s) were taken of the accessible portion of the outside of the structure. The photo(s) are uploaded to the software and date/time stamped. No contact with the owners and no interior inspection occurs for parcel reviews.
- Interior inspections: Optionally, at the request of property owners, an interior inspection may be requested. During an interior inspection, photos of the interior are taken, confirmation of interior dimensions and condition is noted.
- The appeals process is established so that property owners may resolve any inaccuracies that impact their market value assessment.
Homeowners push back
Homeowners believe the county drove around and only took pictures for the most part.
Homeowners say when they push for proof of an inspection, all they get is a photograph and there are no details to support that an inspection took place.
One homeowner recorded her assessment appeal and questioned the representative about the physical inspection.
“So, when was that done?” her husband asked.
“Yeah, what was the date and time?” Martha adds.
“I couldn’t tell you,” answered the representative. “Likely 2021? I don’t have the dates for when those were done.”
What the law says
Missouri state law requires a physical inspection if the property tax value is more than 15 percent.
Subsection 10 reads:
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.
But what counts as a physical inspection? There’s a subsection for that as well:
12) A physical inspection…shall include, but not be limited to, an on-site personal observation…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.
The Jackson County code, Chapter 20, clarifies those required physical inspections. It states that there’s a required notice, and specifically states drive-by inspections don’t cut it.
The code reads:
Except as otherwise provided…mere observation of the property via a drive-by inspection, or by viewing satellite imagery, photographs, or drone video footage, shall not be considered sufficient to constitute a physical inspection as required by this section.
Homeowners suspect those laws were ignored. State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick has been asked by the Jackson County Legislature to audit the last Jackson County assessment. He told KCTV5 he’s going to investigate whether actual inspections took place.
No quick resolution
The 54,000 appeals filed by Jackson County property owners shatter any previous record.
There is a class-action lawsuit filed against the county questioning the inspections on the thousands of homes with assessments higher than 15 percent.
Physical inspections will be one thing the state audit reviews.
“There are a lot of a lot of red flags and a lot of questions,” said Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick. “Generally, there are things that need to be looked at. There are certainly concerns and I think that the people of Jackson County’s concerns are very valid.”
Fitzpatrick tells KCTV5 he understands the need to compress the timeline as much as possible. Tax bills go out in October and people are required to pay by Dec. 31. Fitzpatrick says any information uncovered will be quickly shared with the Legislature.
In the meantime, homeowners question the lack of response and accountability.
“Who are they responsible to? Frank White? What is Mr. White doing?” questioned John Welchert.
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