JACKSON COUNTY, MO (KCTV) — A data expert who has been crunching numbers in the Jackson County assessment says he doesn’t trust any of the data and values reached by the assessment department.

Preston Smith sits on the county’s Board of Equalization and has a background in data management. He questions the validity of the data used in the recent headline-making assessment.

“I do not think anyone can trust their tax bill in Jackson county based on this data,” Smith told KCTV5 News. “There are more problems that you even imagined.”

Smith requested finalized values from 2019 so he could compare them to 2018. The KCTV5 News investigation team was hoping he could do advanced analysis, but Smith said the quality of the data was so poor that wasn’t possible,

“The more I dug into the data, the more questions I got, and it really reached the point that I became concerned using the data for anything.,” he explained.

Data Errors

Jackson County’s assessment department has been in a harsh spotlight over the last four months as homeowners question the value of their assessments.

KCTV5 News revealed the county’s own emails that show data systems were returning values which didn’t make sense.

One email from late May that was sent by Director of Assessment Gail McCann Beatty noted “in many cases there are very small improvements that went from values under 100k to multi-million dollar buildings.”

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Smith has uncovered what appears to be a new problem in the process – values are recorded differently in different places when the county’s public records are carefully reviewed.

KCTV5 News first noticed this issue with a Walmart property that was valued in both a spread sheet and the parcel viewer at $350,000. That was a huge drop in value from 2018, when the county assessed the property at $13.4 million.

An update from a county spokesperson explained that, “the County determined that there was an error on the website. It has since been corrected and you can find the 2019 market value online.”

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Smith said he is convinced this is more than a website error, however. Simple data analysis shows other similar concerns.

KCTV5 News found different property values for a Macy’s store location. The 2018 value was $9.2 million, but there are different recorded values for 2019 depending on where someone looks. In three of four places, the property has a value of $7 million listed, but there might also be a higher value of $14.3 million.

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Another discrepancy can be seen in the different values for Venture Industries. Last year the assessed value was $1.1 million.

The owner is now appealing his $2.1 million 2019 assessment and was stunned to learn KCTV5 News found a new value of just $183,000 in three of four places, similar to the issue with the values for the Macy’s property. It’s unclear what value will be used to calculate his new tax bill.

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Smith and the KCTV5 News investigations team began tracking discrepancies between assessed values and county records. It was discovered that some parcel ID numbers used in the assessment do not interface correctly with the county’s own mapping software.

For example, the parcel ID numbers for three Quiktrip locations instead point on the map to Krakow, Poland.

“My first response is I’ve been to Krakow, Poland, and Quiktrip wasn’t there,” Smith said.

Smith told KCTV5 News that after everything that has been exposed and reported, he’s stunned this assessment rolls forward.

“It’s the whole database,” he said. “The core of all their data. It’s corrupt, it faulty. It’s a flawed assessment.”

What happens next?

There is a push for overall solutions due to all of the concerns in the Jackson County assessment. Right now, the Board of Equalization is reviewing different proposals to cap assessments.

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Jackson County legislative chair Theresa Galvin supports the 14.9% cap.

“This would include all properties whether they filed an appeal or not, however it would exclude new construction,” Galvin said. “Doing this would eliminate the need for so many hearings freeing the assessment department to focus on 2021.”

Galvin describes the 2019 assessment as endless and painful and said at this point, she is incredibly concerned about the quality of the data used in this assessment.

“This is just not good government. Our constituents deserve better from us. This process is clearly broken.”

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