To avoid the heartburn and headlines that have dogged the Jackson County property assessment process since June, county legislators are looking at a request to get the Assessment Department fully staffed and equip it with a modern computer system.
“What we’ve been through this year, it’s been very trying and difficult,” Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, said Tuesday. She has in recent weeks sometimes used far stronger language to describe the confusion and anger expressed by homeowners, 17,000 of whom have taken their cases to the county’s Board of Equalization, hoping for relief from sharply higher assessments than can mean higher tax bills.
Williams is the Legislature’s budget chair, and legislators are going through the proposed 2020 budget department by department. As proposed, the budget is at $362.65 million. Legislators will likely adopt a final budget in about two weeks.
Legislators say they want the assessment issues cleared up.
“We can’t go through it again. It’s not even an option,” Williams said.
The Assessment Department request – $3.01 million to add 41 workers and $3.2 million to upgrade outdated software – is the biggest request for new spending on the table, Williams said.
Although work is already under way for the 2021 reassessment, the department’s director, Gail McCann Beatty, said it will take time to go from 71 employees to 115. The county lost positions when the state cut funding several years ago, and officials have long described the department as understaffed.
Beatty said she would add about 10 people per quarter.
“It is going to take some time to hire and train the necessary staff …” she said.
The county also expects to release a comprehensive wage study in mid-December, and officials have described the goal of getting all starting pay to at least $12.50 an hour in 2020 and reach $15 by 2022.
Beatty said low pay has been an issue in her department.
“I’m hoping that the compensation study will allow us to be more competitive,” she said.