KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- There was a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. on Friday at Metropolitan Baptist Church.
The meeting is hosted by African American leaders and Hispanic leaders who feel targeted in this latest Jackson County property assessment. They have invited county leaders to come and explain how the assessment was done, and they are begging for the appeal deadline to be extended.
“They need more time ... the concern we have there are a lot of people who are not aware of a Monday deadline,” said Realtor and Board of Equalization member Stacey Johnson Cosby.
Right now, the deadline is the end of the business day on Monday. Leaders in both communities are asking for the deadline to be extended by another month.
“We need more time! We need more time! Please extend the deadline, please,” says homeowner Charlie Lona.
They argue many in their communities are in shock and need extra time to prepare all of the necessary paperwork, possibly get appraisals and document concerns with their homes which would help reflect true market value.
Problems with assessment
KCTV5 news has done more than a dozen investigative reports documenting concerns with the assessment.
We’ve listened to homeowners who has seen property values double, triple and even shoot up by more than 500%.
Whistleblowers have contacted our investigative team revealing the county stopped using full MLS data that could possibly have led to a more accurate assessment.
“I would have no clue how an appraisal is done without MLS data,” Realtor Curtis Jay said. “I’m actually stunned they didn’t have MLS access. That information is critical in assessing properties.”
Others have pointed out rich, powerful people were not targeted like they were. If the goal of this assessment was to reflect true market value- some connected people were very lucky.
“It’s just another reason why the assessor’s department should start all over, using the multiple listing service and try not to raise values in one single swoop,” another realtor told KCTV5. “It makes you wonder how many others in the county are undervalued ... that’s just not right.”
We’ve also heard from homeowners who simply had incorrect information on their assessment and believe “aerial assessments” led to an increase in square footage.
Sherre Wichmann gained 1,000 square feet of living space, but there’s no renovation and no addition.
Wichmann blames her roof, and now questions how many other assessments are wrong.
“I know I don’t live in 3,300 square feet,” she said.
What the data shows
KCTV5 has connected with data expert Preston Smith who worked with raw databases once he began seeing “mass inconsistencies.”
He compared recent sales with assessments.
The numbers show 66% of those recent sales did not meet the county’s own goals in the assessment.
Smith found this baffling because all certificate of value sales are recorded with the county.
Smith also looked at how assessments changed. The data shows a shocking 28% were 14.9%.
KCTV5’s investigative team asked Smith to look for that knowing that state law calls for a physical inspection at 15%. The county says they can physically inspect pictures but we wanted to know if they hedge their bets. It appears they did but only in certain sections of town.
14.9% was a common assessment increase in some sections of the county.
People who live in the urban sections saw much higher increases and say what happened smacks of discrimination and a calculated land grab.
“Business as usual,” said Rachel Riley, whose taxes shot up 300%.
Jackson County’s response
Jackson County’s executive leadership has stood firmly by the assessor even though homeowners demand something must be done.
The current assessor, Gail McCann Beatty, says she is bound by state statute to find true market value and that for years assessments were too low and inaccurate.
She has promised to work with homeowners who find any mistakes and need values changed.
“I am not happy this happened,” McCann Beatty said. “But I did what the statute says I had to do.”
She sat down with KCTV5 and expressed that a change in state law may be needed to solve concerns.
McCann Beatty has refused to discuss the use of 14.9% assessment increases and the pattern that emerges when those addresses are plotted on a map.
Jackson County Executive Frank White has released numerous statements that he does not support any caps or proposals to change the overall assessment saying those would be a violation of state law.
However, the Jackson County legislature has openly expressed concerns and even released a public statement concerning the assessment.
Homeowner and data expert Preston Smith has proposed caps for the year that would offer immediate relief to homeowners, provide an increase that reflects market value increases from the latest assessment and comply with state law since physical inspections of properties were not done.
Smith made his presentation to the Board of Equalization which only allowed him a sharp five minutes to explain his plan.
There were no follow-up questions by the board and the members did not ask the assessor any questions either.
They quickly moved on to appeals from homeowners who have company. A record number of people have appealed their assessments. More than 9,000 people have filed formal appeals and more than 21,000 people have filed informal appeals.
State representatives have formed an emergency state wide committee to discuss property taxes across the state.
Rep. Brandon Ellington released this statement:
“As one of my last official acts I would like to encourage every single resident of the 22nd district who lives in Jackson county to appeal their property taxes. It is painfully obvious that the rubric in which the county assessor used to assess the properties was flawed and the process appears to be discriminatory and targeted toward the poorer population.”
A class action lawsuit has been filed calling the assessment discriminatory and violation of state law. The filing has been amended asking a judge to halt the entire process including tax collection. That call for a temporary restraining order has not been heard by a judge yet.
Additionally, homeowners have openly called on federal and state authorities to investigate the methods and discussions behind the assessment.
In the meantime, Jackson County has hired out of town back up as they face concerns and a record amount of appeals.
Open records reveal contracts with three appraisal companies from St. Louis who were originally hired at $60 an hour to help with assessments in the spring.
Those companies now make $140 to $146 an hour to help the county with appeals and strategy. Meaning your own tax dollars are now paying top dollar to backup what many consider a troubled assessment.