Jackson County Assessment Department admits to data error affecting hundreds of taxpayers

Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 3:17 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2023 at 8:12 AM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - The Jackson County Tax Assessor’s Office has admitted to an error uncovered by KCTV5 Investigates weeks ago, just now releasing an action plan to address it.

KCTV5 Investigates has been reporting on hundreds of homes with the same value — $356,270 — since mid-August. Many of these homes are vastly different than one another. At least one was purchased for over $1 million.

Some properties were vacant lots. Most had been purchased in December for wildly different amounts, many around $100,000 to $150,000.

On Friday, the spokesperson for the assessor’s office sent an email regarding what they now admit is an error:

The Jackson County, Missouri, Assessor’s Office has successfully rectified a data error that caused multiple parcels to receive identical valuations. By Sunday, September 10, the assessed values of the majority of parcels that were mistakenly overvalued due to this input error will be corrected to reflect their fair market values.

In a statement, the Assessor’s Office acknowledged the issue, explaining “Earlier this year, we identified a formulaic error in our data that led to the duplication of property values. Once identified, we diligently worked to identify and correct all affected parcels. We are pleased to confirm that the values of these parcels have now been re-evaluated to accurately reflect their fair market values.”

Read the full statement here.

Experts react

The county blames the error on a “formulaic error in our data that led to the duplication of property values.”

This error was first identified by Preston Smith, a data expert with more than 30 years of high-level data analysis experience.

“Shame on Jackson County for taking a month to dream up some lame excuse for $356,270,” said Smith. “Shame on them for trying to lie about the 500 parcels and the analysis. And shame on them for the problems this flawed assessment has caused every taxpayer in Jackson County. When this assessment is finally found illegal, they are going to owe us all a huge apology. They should start with a personal apology to every one of these 500 taxpayers. There is no defending this debacle.”

ALSO READ: Jackson County homeowners record assessment department, turn over recordings to KCTV5
Preston Smith is a data expert with more than 30 years of high-level data analysis experience.
Preston Smith is a data expert with more than 30 years of high-level data analysis experience.(KCTV5)

A mass appraisal expert we consulted agrees with Smith.

“It doesn’t matter how the ‘formulaic error made earlier this year’ happened, the issue is why there was no quality control to identify it before values were certified and notices sent,” said Marlene Jeffers.

Jeffers has 40 years of experience and says Jackson County’s assessment is the most troubling assessment she’s ever seen anywhere in the nation.

“That brings into question all the anomalies and obvious inequities that have come to light,” said Jeffers. “There would have been no quality control on those as well.”

Homeowners react

$356,270 was a crisis for some homeowners who did not catch the mistake in time to file an appeal.

Amanda Barron’s house was assessed at $356,270. She found out when KCTV5 alerted her to it in a phone call a couple of weeks ago.

“Oh, my Lord,” said Barron. “I only bought the home for $120,000.”

Barron currently works on an oil rig in Texas and didn’t see her assessment notice.

ALSO READ: Jackson County assessor ‘million dollar mistake’ gives some homeowners a huge break on taxes
Amanda Barron is one of the homeowners whose property was assessed at $356,270.
Amanda Barron is one of the homeowners whose property was assessed at $356,270.(KCTV5)

KCTV5 Investigates called and texted her to share the good news. She was worried about losing her home due to higher taxes and Jackson County not admitting to the error.

“Oh, my gosh! This is great,” said Amanda. “This gives me so much relief! This is amazing!”

KCTV5 continues to investigate assessment

KCTV5 Investigates continues to push for answers regarding this error. We sent more questions to the assessment department’s new PR firm now handling questions surrounding this troubled assessment.

We have repeatedly asked for an on-camera interview with assessment director Gail McCann Beatty. That request is continually deflected and was denied again on Friday.

We also asked for a response to our experts’ claim on the lack of quality control.

“The point of the appeal process is to review and correct errors,” said an assessment spokesperson. “This is not a perfect process. We will continue to review throughout the appeals process and correct errors as they are identified.”

ALSO READ: Did required physical inspections really take place in Jackson County? Experts and homeowners weigh in.

Homeowners continue to notify our investigative department of problems regarding the appeals process. We’re reporting on concerns that true physical inspections did not take place and asking questions about whether this is a limited data error or just one example of a lack of quality control.

As part of our reporting process, we are sending crews to properties across the county to better understand data discrepancies.

Former assessment directors are working behind the scenes with KCTV5 to provide guidance and insight.

Troubled Assessment

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.

County downplays KCTV5′s accurate reporting

The County’s new PR firm, paid with your tax dollars, attempted to spin the error, downplaying what happened.

“It is important to emphasize that the number of properties impacted by this incident represents a very small fraction of all properties in Jackson County, Missouri. Assessing the fair market value of our nearly 300,000 parcels is a complex task involving software, human input, and extensive data. While we anticipated occasional errors in this process, we have been committed to promptly identifying and resolving them. Additionally, we have established a comprehensive appeals process that has proven effective for thousands of property owners in Jackson County.”

The statement originally claimed KCTV5 Investigates reporting was inaccurate. “Reports of more than 500 affected properties are unsubstantiated and stem from data submitted to Jackson County legislators in May before our data was certified, resulting in an inflated estimate.”

Five hours later, the county changed its tune after KCTV5 Investigates questioned the validity of their claim and demanded the county provide the exact number of properties affected by the data error. Eventually, the county PR spokesperson admitted the number affected was 550 parcels, which is directly in line with KCTV5′s original reporting. There was no explanation for why the original statement sent to KCTV5 was false.

ALSO READ: State Auditor addresses ‘red flags’ he sees in Jackson County property assessment

Data expert, Preston Smith offered this response:

“It definitely was more than 500 parcels on the list valued at $356,270. I didn’t create those numbers or add those values inaccurately to the parcels. And if the County cannot count to 500, I will be glad to send them the list and help them,” said Smith.

Jackson County legislator Manny Abarca sent KCTV5 the following statement:

First, I must thank Angie Ricono and the KCTV5 team, as this correction likely would have not occurred without your all’s reporting. At no point since “the beginning of the year” has the Assessor, Tyler, nor any agent of the County admitted to realizing nor attempting to correct such an egregious and obvious error. This further eroded taxpayer confidence in this assessment process and calls to question what else may be hiding behind the curtain. The legislature has tried over and over again to verify actual raw data, hear real answers and validates the statements of the assessor and their crisis communication team; however, their obstructionist refusal has left us and taxpayers in the dark, leaving us with only information they want us to know. Because of this error and admission alone, the entire process should be thrown out and a level increase be issued in November to end the chaos and tax increase crisis and help curb impact to homeowners. The executive has the authority to throw out this error-filled assessment and it’s time for him to stop playing games and do what’s right and just, clearly within his authority under the law and charter!”

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