While serving on an interim Missouri House committee taking a look at property tax assessments, State Rep. Jeff Coleman and others conducted public hearings in counties around the state.
“What we feel is that the system is broken,” Coleman, R-Grain Valley, said Thursday during the second of two small town halls in Grain Valley this week. “A lot of them had issues, but Jackson had the most.”
While Jackson County assessors have finished going through most of 22,000 informal appeals on property tax assessments – many of which had substantial increases this year – many county residents remain worried how the taxes will shake out.
Besides his criticism of County Executive Frank White Jr.'s response to the issue – “I like Frank, but unfortunately I don't think he's doing the right job with this,” Coleman said – he offered a few things he and other legislators will try to do to help.
Among the problems Coleman said he's seen:
• Subpar assessments for many prior years, leading to sticker shock this year – “300 to 400 percent increase, in some cases” – and when some county officials first noticed problems in March they failed to address them.
• A large number of assessments coming in with a 14.9 percent increase – just below the threshold of 15 percent that requires a physical assessment.
• Having a county assessor who's appointed, unlike nearly all others in Missouri who are elected. He believes an elected official there and perhaps an appointed county executive would lead to fewer appeals.
“If they're held more accountable, if you're beholden to the right people, I think it makes a difference,” he said.
State Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, plans to propose a bill to change the burden of proof for increases from the taxpayer to the assessor, Coleman said. Also, Cierpiot said later, he's considering a bill to more strictly enforce the 15-percent threshold.
Coleman said he will push for keeping assessments staying at a base value until the property is resold. On average, he said, a home changes hands every seven to 10 years, so taxing jurisdictions could still realize higher tax revenue over time. Such a change would help those on fixed incomes, he said.
“You don't have to (pay capital gains taxes) for your (investment) portfolio; why shouldn't it be that way with your house,” Coleman said. If he can't get assessment values pushed back to, say, 2015 figures, he would start at last year's values.
Coleman explained that the General Assembly could step in and cap increases for this year, but that requires a special session that doesn't easily happen.
Many property owners still have appeals pending before the county’s Board of Equalization. Theresa Galvin, chair of the County Legislature, told attendees, “the Board of Equalization is on your side,” but also said she knows some citizens don't understand the documentation required for such appeals.
In the meantime, someone like Bonnie Philpott worries she won't be able to handle a tax increase tied to the mortgage on her house she's lived in more than 20 years.
“I don't want to be one of those little old ladies that has to move,” said Philpott, an Oak Grove resident.
Larry Shoffner, who has owned some rural land between Oak Grove and Buckner since 2000, said his assessment jumped from $28,000 to $44,000. He questioned why someone shouldn't just move to a neighboring county simply for lower property taxes.
“We were living under a false sense of security,” he said. “If it went up a little bit every year, you can at least see the writing on the wall and deal with it. “This year, boom.”
Coleman acknowledged that the new county assessor, Gail McCann Beatty, has had to fight this with an undermanned staff.
“She came into a bad situation and was kind of doomed,” Coleman said. “She was told not to ask for an increase in her budget.”