A Jackson County board on Monday gave homeowners and business owners more time to appeal property assessments that those owners think are out of line. Also, a member of that board offered a plan to have the county simply start over with the 2019 assessments – though action on that isn’t coming immediately and the county executive dismissed the idea.
The Board of Equalization set a new deadline, July 29, to file for an informal appeal with the county’s Assessment Department. That gives property owners more time to gather and present information to help the department get a fuller picture of a property’s true value. If that’s not satisfactory, a property owner can appeal to the Board of Equalization in a formal process.
Both the Independence and Kansas City courthouses were busy Monday, with long lines of people trying to meet the deadline, now extended by three weeks. Property owners have been flooding county offices with phone calls and emails since reassessment statements were mailed weeks ago. Of the roughly 300,000 properties in the county, at least 21,000 owners have asked for an informal review and many have said that higher assessments could mean higher taxes to an extent they could lose their homes.
But Board of Assessment Member Preston Smith, who represents the Blue Springs School District, said state statute allows the board to cancel an assessment and pursue an “intercounty equalization order” and set assessments for the entire county.
“I believe that the case can be easily made that the assessment has been done inaccurately, inconsistently and arbitrarily,” Smith said.
His plan is this:
• Parcels with assessment increases of 200 percent or more could be capped at a 14 percent increase.
• Parcels up 100 to 200 percent would be capped at 13 percent.
• Parcels with increases up to 100 percent would be capped at 12 percent.
He wants to cancel the assessment and hold hearings on these new percentages.
“So I believe that’s a process we should follow,” he said. “It would clean up this mess.”
He added later, “This has been done before in the state of Missouri. … We’re not reinventing the wheel.”
The board’s next meeting is set for Aug. 7. Smith said he’d like to see action “sometime in the near future, and I don’t mean August.” He also said his sense is that the board overall is hostile to the idea.
Board Chair Christopher S. Smith didn’t comment on Preston Smith’s idea on Monday, pointing out that it had just come up, but he did say he’s inclined to schedule a special meeting to take up fairly soon.
However, the office of County Executive Frank White Jr. issued a statement later Monday, saying Preston Smith’s plan “proposes to set arbitrary caps on valuation increases, regardless of the property's true value.”
Both sides – Smith and White’s office – said they were relying on information from Maureen Monaghan, general counsel for the State Tax Commission.
Several county legislators attended Monday’s Board of Equalization meeting, and two spoke in support of its efforts and asked what can be done to help, such as adding to the budget so the massive number of appeals can be processed more quickly.
But White, speaking Sunday, was critical of the role some legislators have taken in the process.
“I’m really disappointed in our Legislature,” he told The Examiner.
He said elected officials should be working together to help people understand their options with the assessments.
“They tried to pin this on the administration to make it our fault, when they are the policy-making body,” he said.
He added, “All they did was incite people.”
He again took issue with a letter – he called it “cowardly” – legislators sent him 10 days ago, asking that the assessments be set aside. He said valuations have been low for many years even though under state law they should reflect actual market value.
“The statue’s been there for 40 years. They know that,” he said.
“Ever since I’ve been in office,” he said, “I’ve spent my time fighting things in the county that should have been fixed years ago.”
He said he and legislators have the same constituents and should be pulling together.
“What they’re trying to do is cast a shadow on us, saying we’re not doing our job,” he said.
White said it’s important that Assessment Director Gail McCann Beatty and her office be allowed to do their work, fixing errors as they arise, and pointed out that local governments haven’t set next year’s levies yet.
“Everybody’s reacting to the estimates right now,” he said. He said, as he has for weeks, that the process needs to play out.
“We’re not here,” he said, “to hurt the taxpayer.”