Independence struggles with uncertain tax funds

By Mike Genet

By state statute, cities such as Independence, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit must approve their 2020 property tax levies by Oct. 1 to be able to collect revenues from Jackson County assessments.

The Independence City Council will have to vote next week on its levy, after a majority did not approve the state auditor-recommended tax levy Monday. 

Mayor Eileen Weir, before she begrudgingly voted her approval, said county officials have already told the city that the recommended levy will be wrong. Due to ongoing appeals, the county’s 2020 assessment has not been completed.

But according to state statute, if the city doesn’t approve the recommended levy, it risks not being able to collect the projected revenues – $8.2 million, in Independence’s case – built into the current 2020-21 budget. Naturally, that’s too big a hit for City Manager Zach Walker to stomach, as he recommended a special meeting next week for another vote. 

The recommended property levy rate $0.6672 per $100 assessed valuation, up from $0.6078 last year due to less overall property valuation in the city.

“It leaves me confounded why we must follow the state statute when the county has not been required to follow state statute and finish assessments by August,” Weir said. “It continues to be a frustrating process that, in my view, has not followed the proper procedures. It appears we don’t have any choice, but it will be wrong, and we have been told it will be wrong.” 

To be clear, Weir added later, she’s not faulting the county officials still dealing with appeals. The Board of Equalization has extended its appeals schedule through October for this year’s assessments and 2019 reassessments. The pandemic has in part hampered the board’s ability to wade through appeals from the controversial 2019 assessments.

Because of the ongoing appeals, the county does what are referred to as “clawbacks” to reimburse taxpayers if necessary. For Independence that was an $866,000 hit, though Walker he’s been informed not much more will be needed.

“State statute says that the county has to figure out by the end of August, and there’s no way that could be met because of all the appeals,” Weir said.

Walker said county officials have told him there are still about 1,500 outstanding appeals across the county, and the board is hearing about 100 per week.

Besides Weir, council members John Perkins and Mike Huff voted to approve the levy. Karen DeLuccie, Dan Hobart, Mike Steinmeyer and Brice Stewart voted against it.

“I’m not going to rubber stamp a bad decision,” DeLuccie said before her vote.

The Blue Springs City Council approved its tax levy Monday night. The $0.6817 rate per $100 assessed valuation is about 3.5 cents greater than 2019, but the 2019 rate dropped 7 cents from 2018. 

The Lee’s Summit City Council was scheduled to vote on its recommended levy ($1.4563 per $100) Tuesday evening.