JACKSON COUNTY, MO (KCTV) – Much has been said and written about Jackson County’s recent assessment, with numerous experts describing it as a botched process that lacked information and fairness.
County leaders have pushed back on those descriptions, saying they will fix mistakes and the media, specifically KCTV5 News, has exaggerated concerns with the assessment.
New research reveals assessment failed basic standards
Statistical analysis by Josh Myers shows Jackson County’s assessment failed to meet basic appraisal standards.
The statistician carved up the county in the target area and the non-target area.
Myers’ analysis shows both the target and the non-target areas were out of compliance when it came to reaching market value. The target area was actually even worse.
The biggest reveal is perhaps the lack of uniformity within the target area. The measurement used by Myers is called coefficient of dispersion, or COD.
Assessments are supposed to treat homes within the same area in a uniformed manner. Perfection is not expected so assessments are given a range of 5% to 15%. Jackson County’s target area scored off the charts with a 49.7% COD.
It’s tough to put into perspective how troubling that score is, but a comparison can be made in a recent troubled assessment in Cook County, Illinois, that led to lawsuits and a restructuring of the entire assessment department.
Alarm bells were sounded based on data that showed the overall county scored a 15.4% COD, with further research revealing the city of Chicago itself scored a 25% COD.
That alarming assessment is still only half as bad as Jackson County score.
Experts struggle to even explain how a county could come to a score of 49.7% COD.
The International Association of Assessing Officers is based in Kansas City. Larry Clark, the group’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, said it is difficult to overstate the issues with the Jackson County assessment.
“A COD of 49.7% means that on average, individual ratios vary from the median ratio by almost 50%. That represents a very poor mass appraisal job,” Clark explained. “The best way to picture this situation is to use a bullseye target. The median ratio would fall exactly on the bullseye. If each successive ring around the center represented a 10% variation, the standard would fall between the first and second ring. The COD of 49.7% would fall in the very outer ring.”
With the group located here in Kansas City, KCTV5 News asked if they have offered to help Jackson County given their expertise and location.
“The Executive Director and I have both spoken to the County Assessor and offered IAAO’s assistance. The response to date has essentially been, ‘No thank you,’” Clark answered.
How did things get so bad?
It’s clear Jackson County’s assessment often lacked real information behind the values homeowners are expected to pay. One expert referred to values as “guessing.”
“Without the staff to conduct field reviews and verify sales and building permits, there's little new data to support the 2019 values,” commercial data expert Marlene Jeffers said.
While Jeffers says it’s clear what went wrong, the good news is Jackson County can fix it, noting the lack of real information began in January of 2015.
The law requires buyers to fill out a certificate of value, or COV, form. That has not been enforced, though, and consequently, Jeffers estimates half of all recent sales do not have a sales price on file.
Jackson County’s assessment department has also been continually stripped of funding and resources, and that lack of investment was highlighted in the recent assessment.
Former Jackson County assessment director Curtis Koons ran the department from 2007 until 2014. He started with a staff of 144 full and seasonal employees, but by the time he left, his staff was chopped down to 52 employees.
Three lawsuits, more could be filed
There are now three lawsuits asking a judge to intervene in the tax assessment due to claims the recent assessment was either broke rules or violated standards.
The first suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and brought on behalf of four neighborhood associations. Jackson County and assessment director Gail McCann Beatty are both named in the suit.
The ACLU claims the assessment is discriminatory. They point to how the assessment was done and the unintended consequences that followed as a result.
The organization points to the map compiled by KCTV5 News and data expert Preston Smith that revealed 74,311 parcels were raised 14.9%, just below the 15% threshold that requires a physical inspection.
The map shows those specific increases were largely in the suburban areas of the county, meaning that largely minority neighborhoods were hit the hardest in this assessment.
Advocates point out some of those homeowners struggle to fight back against incredible increases because they lack the resources.
A second lawsuit against the county and McCann Beatty also points out increases went above 15% and lacked physical inspections, claiming Jackson County hedged its bets and raised many properties 14.9% in almost a silent acknowledgement of the state statute requiring inspections.
That petition asks the judge to consider if Jackson County is simply a failed state and drags out all of the historical problems within Jackson County. It specifically highlights former Jackson County executive Mike Sanders federal conviction and current executive Frank White’s lack of administrative experience and personal financial problems.
“So, it is perhaps not such a great leap of logic that an Executive engaging in unlawful behavior, a second executive that was serially facing foreclosure with no discernable executive or management experience would not build teams and processes necessary to avoid the rank embarrassment Jackson County citizens have suffered at the hands of its leaders over the last few years. Certainly, the most important role a County plays in our government structure is collecting taxes for the education, health, and enlightenment of its citizens. Needless to say, that team and its processes were not lawfully sufficient for the task.”
The third lawsuit takes a different approach and asks a judge to force the Board of Equalization to do their jobs and fix the assessment. It suggests that an intra-county equalization order is needed to fix the situation on a mass scale instead of simply addressing concerns one homeowner at a time.
That petition was crafted by legal aid and brought on behalf of homeowners. It specifically cites a widow named Evelyn Bravo whose home value jumped from $54,551 to $246,522 in a single year, a 352% increase.
The suit claims it is likely a physical inspection was never done, and Jackson County’s own records reveal the picture the county has on file is from 2005.
Bravo fought her new assessment and won, so her taxes were lowered back down to $54,551. The lawsuit points to other homeowners who haven’t appealed due to a broken system with many confusing aspects:
- It points out original notices said, “THIS IS NOT A BILL.”
- Many homeowners could not afford an appraisal.
- Notices were only sent in English- meaning those who are not native English speakers are at a disadvantage.
- Many assessments were lost and never reached homeowners.
- 8,600 EMAILS sent in by homeowners were recently found and the county admits they were never read.
This petition contains the new data and information that claims Jackson County’s assessment grossly fails acceptable industry standards.
What’s next for homeowners?
Homeowners continue to reach out to KCTV5 News describing a host of problems. Many are trying to figure out how they will cope with rising mortgages based on spikes in their property taxes.
Others have turned to credit cards to pay taxes hoping their appeals will be successful and they can avoid the mortgage increase.
Appeals are dragging into another calendar year as homeowners describe little notice from the BoE to show up and argue their cases. Some received notice the same day they were to appear before the board.
Everyone agrees a record number of homeowners are appealing their property taxes, but the county lacks any sort of process to put a firm number on the amount.
There were 21,742 informal appeals filed on top of the more than 13,000 formal appeals also filed. A county spokesperson says some appeals may be duplications. Additionally, the county is now combing through those 8,600 emails from homeowners which were originally missed.