JACKSON COUNTY, MO (KCTV) – Newly released data based on Jackson County’s own numbers shows massive increases and errors while also raising legal concerns.
The county assessment department has painted a picture of homeowners and the media overreacting about property taxes. Here are the 5 things property owners should know about their property taxes.
1. Property values are greatly increasing for many people.
Data expert Preston Smith has been working closely with the KCTV5 News investigative team. He crunched the most recent data from the county and compared it the values in 2018.
Smith said that despite Director of Assessment Gail McCann Beatty’s assurances that she would reevaluate assessment values, few results could be seen.
“All summer I heard the assessor tell groups that she would adjust values that were wrong. I wanted to see how many residential values had changed since June,” Smith explained. “Answer: 5,685 out of 272,000 parcels. 2%. And that included those appeals granted. I don’t think she did much changing.”
The following data isolates residential changes from 2018 to 2019.
The county’s own data shows that 25% of all homeowners have a 25% or greater increase to the value of their homes. Almost 9% will see their values double.
KCTV5 News reached out directly to McCann Beatty and the county public information officer to discuss this data. Their response was questioning the source and how the values were reached.
McCann Beatty maintains the adjusted levies will ease the overall tax burden in many communities. The levy will not roll back in the KCMO school district, though. That’s where homeowners were hit the hardest.
Many community leaders predict dire consequences for some homeowners that will have a ripple effect across the community. They point out many families cannot pay hundreds or even thousands more in taxes, especially in one year.
Home values will continue to fluctuate as homeowners continue to work through the appeals process.
2. 14.9% remains the favorite increase. Here’s why.
For 73,360 homes, or about 27% of all residential parcels, 14.9% is now the percentage increase seen for the assessment. That increase of 14.9% is also the most you can raise a home’s value without a physical inspection.
McCann Beatty maintains state law allows her to physically review photos of properties and that in-person physical inspections are only needed in St. Louis.
The KCTV5 News investigation team wondered if the assessment department hedged their bets while making sweeping changes all over the county, and it appears that they did. Working with Smith, KCTV5 News revealed that information and the map showing where the county played it safe.
McCann Beatty recently testified before a house committee hearing that what the map shows was just an accident.
“I will tell you everything got treated the same. I will tell you that everything is listed by a parcel number,” she testified. “We don’t know where it is when we’re doing our calculations. We do that intentionally… we don’t put names on properties so that there is no bias there. That that circle happens to be a coincidence of the process. There was nothing targeted. Everyone was treated the same.”
Many experts point to the 14.9% blanket wide increases as reason enough to intervene in the assessment. One class action lawsuit has been dismissed, but other lawsuits are expected.
3. You’ll still find whoppers of errors.
The Walmart discount store in Lee’s Summit has one heck of a discount on property taxes. The value went from almost $14 million down to $350,000! KCTV5 News discovered this unexplained value after reviewing the county’s latest cleaned up values.
It easily stands out because the value of this single parcel dropped $13,126,845, and anyone with basic data skills can find these concerns by combining data rolls.
KCTV5 News reached out for an explanation, and the county responded by saying they would look into that question. Thursday afternoon the link to data for the Walmart location had been disabled. Instead, it now reads “no information available.”
KCTV5 News searched thousands of emails and discovered other values that defy explanation, like a modest residential property that was valued at $3.7 million. It has now been lowered to $65,000.
Smith told KCTV5 News he is no longer shocked at any value attached to any property.
“The management and the organization of the data was flawed from beginning to end,” he said.
Smith and other community leaders keep pushing for overall solutions because the current system relies on homeowners finding mistakes and pointing them out.
4. Homeowners are angry and scared.
“I play by the rules and do what I'm supposed to. There are no rules to play by to fight this.This is so stressful and unreasonable. Please help me if you can.”
That was the message of one retired school teacher who wrote to KCTV5 News. Her taxes increased 1317.1% on lots that cannot be developed. They county suggested a 132.7% increase as a compromise.
The former teacher and widow suspects the assessment department just moved a decimal point and called it good enough.
KCTV5 News has heard from numerous homeowners trying to navigate a broken system. John Murphy with Citizens for Responsible Government describes the whole process as “unbelievable.” Murphy shared an email he sent to county leadership where he told them, “This circus you are running is getting worse and worse.”
Homeowners struggle to connect with a real person and sit on hold for hours. Others report to KCTV5 News that the county has lost their paperwork, and many express frustration when they request information from the county.
Almost all homeowners navigating appeals seem to have a complaint about the process, indicating that they now face the burden of fixing the county’s mistakes and must spend time and money in a high-stakes process they don’t really trust.
5. Legally, this can be fixed.
There is good news. The Board of Equalization has apparently seen enough and has been reviewing the assessment department’s values and changing values one home at a time. They also appear to be open to the idea of voting on an overall solution, with four proposals under consideration.
However, the BOE said they needed a legal opinion that ensures such an act is even legal. Legal Aid of Western Missouri, which has helped numerous homeowners on an individual basis, provided a legal opinion that intra-county equalization orders are legal and are a viable option for the board. The three voting board members are currently reviewing the entire opinion.
Attorney Michael Duffy with Legal Aid of Western Missouri told KCTV5 News there is a lengthy court history that backs up the BOE plan.
“I think that the evidence they have right now of wildly differing valuations and the evidence that a great number of valuations were set at 14.9% compel the board to consider some sort of systemic intra-county equalization order,” Duffy said. “Over the last 100 years and more, we have seen the Missouri Supreme Court approve county boards of equalization issuance of intra-county equalization orders to correct exactly the kind of problems we are seeing in Jackson County.”