Thousands of Jackson County property owners have told county officials they are upset with new assessments that could raise their tax bills. County officials told them Monday that officials are taking a closer look at the numbers and are looking for equitable solutions – but also stressed that the county has limited options.
Paul Rojas, a lifelong county resident and longtime community leader, said his property assessment went up 450 percent.
“Tell me that’s fair,” he told county officials gathered in Independence on Monday.
“We will not take this laying down,” he added. “We cannot take this laying down. This is grossly unfair.”
Many property owners at Monday’s County Legislature meeting were from the West Side area of Kansas City, but officials said the concerns are countywide. Legislators and their aides have been fielding calls and emails for weeks – though the Legislature does not hire the assessment director or control that process and though many of the issues stem from state, not county, policies.
“For years, our properties have been undervalued,” said Legislature Chair Theresa Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit. “... Unfortunately, it was sticker shock for all of us.”
She said that’s unfair and said officials are looking for a solution.
“I don’t know what it is,” Galvin said, “but we are working on it.”
Director of Assessment Gail McCann Beatty, an appointee of County Executive Frank White Jr., said her mandate under state law is to get assessed values as close to actual values as possible – but also stressed that her office wants to work with property owners to get the fullest picture of a property’s value. Beatty said 15,000 requests for review have come in and said her office will be working on that all summer.
“You just simply need to let us know so we can review it,” she told property owners,
She stressed that the statements that showed up in mailboxes earlier this month – they say “This is not a tax bill” at the top – reflect the beginning of the process, not a home or business owner’s final bill for county, city, school and other services. And the assessor’s office has time to correct the figures.
“It’s not set yet,” Beatty told property owners. “Give us the opportunity to review it.”
July 8 is the deadline for property owners to file an appeal with the county Board of Equalization.
Beatty said the requests coming in have highlighted areas of concern.
“We have found some irregularities and are addressing them now,” she said.
The county has to try to have assessments in line with properties’ actual value, and officials said those figures have lagged for years.
“We’ve ... been undervalued in Jackson County because of a lack of political will (to assess at actual values) for decades,” said Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City. But she added that people are genuinely worried about losing their homes.
“That is not our intention,” Beatty said.
Beatty said some of the solutions lie at the state level. When she was in the General Assembly, legislation to cap property taxes for seniors – as other states do – was offered and never passed, she said.
Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City, said that something has to give. Higher assessments will mean higher rents.
“Affordable housing is going to be less affordable,” he said.
“You’re going to have businesses,” he added, “that are going to move and leave.”