Jackson County moving toward assessment upgrade

By Jeff Fox jeff.fox@examiner.net

Jackson County legislators on Monday are set to vote on $17.88 million in contracts to upgrade the Assessment Department’s technology and, in the long run, make property assessments – the basis of property taxes – more accurate and fair across the county, with a more publicly transparent process.

The county has been working on hiring a company for the work for more than a year and has chosen Tyler Technology, Appraisal & Tax Solutions to install and maintain a computer-assisted appraisal system, and to train staff in its use. The county says its current system is 20 years old and no longer supported by the vendor.

The county says it has more than 300,000 parcels – homes, businesses, etc. – says it has not done a parcel-by-parcel review in years, and says it's impossible for the current staff to do so without outside help. The county has been adding assessment staff, but the department says office space has hindered that, a problem compounded by the pandemic.

The county’s Board of Equalization is still ruling on the last of the thousands of appeals from the 2019 assessment, and those appeals seem likely to linger into 2021 – the year the next round of assessment happens. Angry citizens came to County Legislature meetings and held other protests last year, and there were lawsuits, complaining that assessments were unfair and in many cases included sharp increases that those citizens repeatedly insisted were not supported by the facts.

The Legislature plans to hold a hearing on the new computer system during its 10 a.m. meeting at the Downtown Courthouse. Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin has noted that it’s a large amount of money and had the item held over on the agenda for a few weeks so legislators could ask their questions, but she said a vote Monday is expected.

“And while I do understand that $18 million is an awful lot of money, but really what we’re asking you all to do is invest in our assessment department in a manner that is similar to what most counties invest on an annual basis,” county Director of Assessment Gail McCann Beatty told legislators this week.

The county says St. Louis County spends $37.06 a year per parcel for assessment, St. Charles County spends $33.06 and Jackson County spends $21.37.

“This money would simply bring, really bring us to that level,” she said. “… This is really a way of getting us on solid footing, and getting good assessments, getting the equity that we’re supposed to have.”

County officials have stressed that a large and costly solution is needed and will take years to phase in.

Beatty said Tyler could get started as soon as late this fall. The new computer-assisted appraisal system would be installed beginning in early 2021 and be ready for the 2023 assessment cycle.

“The sooner we get started, the better,” she said.