Up, down or staying the same?
Over the next week, Jackson County taxpayers will learn how much the government thinks their homes and business properties are worth for tax purposes.
But this year, county officials hope to avoid the nightmare of 2013, when thousands of homeowners’ property values were set incorrectly.
That was the last time property assessment notices went out, and double-digit increases in neighborhoods like Hyde Park and Coleman Highlands had many Kansas Citians fretting and fuming.
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But as new property valuation notices on nearly 300,000 real estate parcels began going out in the mail Tuesday, Jackson County said one thing is for certain: The 2015 reassessment cycle won’t be a repeat of the debacle that the 2013 reassessment was initially.
“For this reassessment, we focused on improving the county’s process by engaging experts and using improved technology,” said Ed Stoll, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer. “We think this process will give us the best reassessment possible.”
Thanks to that new reliance on consultants and access to the latest cloud-based technology, the county assessor’s office was able to better align estimated market values with reality than two years ago, officials said.
That’s not to say some residential and commercial property owners won’t see jaw-dropping increases in their property values like last time. But on average, the increases are modest and, most important, officials say, based on a firm foundation of appraisal data rather than the fouled-up formulas that had many Kansas City homeowners hollering in 2013.
“It’s driven by our best idea of what the values are now,” not what they were two years ago, said John Q. Ebert, one of several consultants brought in to help manage the state-mandated process of setting property values in odd-numbered years.
Notices will begin appearing in mailboxes as early as Wednesday, Stoll said. The remainder should arrive next week at the latest. Initially the plan was to have that data accessible on the county website before notices were mailed, but now it won’t be until later this week or next.
Overall values on all classes of property rose 4.4 percent countywide.
On average, the values on the 262,159 residential properties, including condominiums, increased 3.89 percent. Singled out, condos went up an average of 7.72 percent, while commercial properties went up 5.4 percent.
Those increases won’t necessarily result in a corresponding increase in tax collections. Counties, cities and other taxing districts in Missouri are allowed to collect some of those amounts to account for inflation and the value of new construction. But most are required by state law to roll back their tax levies if the increase results in a large increase in tax dollars.
The Kansas City school district, however, is the notable exception and is exempt from the rollback requirement.
When Jackson County updated residential and commercial property values initally in 2013, thousands of Kansas City homeowners saw increases of 20, 30 and 40 percent that they feared would lead to higher taxes.
In the wake of angry protests, the mess was eventually fixed. Many values were lowered when property owners complained. Others were reset after a broader county review.
But those corrected values came only after an embarrassed Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and members of the county legislature weathered criticism at neighborhood meetings and in the media.
The county’s assessor at the time, Curtis Koons, took responsibility and resigned.
Ever since, the county has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and new equipment in preparation for the 2015 reassessment cycle. Where previously inspectors took written notes and keyed them into the county’s computer system when they got back to the office at the end of the day, information was inputted in real time this go-around.
Inspectors had tablet computers to record data on the spot and check facts that would affect values.
Stoll did not know exactly how much was spent but said, “Clearly we have invested heavily in outside consultants and technology.”
Typically, the county sends inspectors into the field to visit one-third of the real estate parcels on its books and estimate the current values based on market conditions. The area covered this year included Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and other areas in the county’s eastern third.
Values were also adjusted countywide, but that hasn’t always been the practice. Most of the properties in this year’s target area have not seen a change in value since the last time they were inspected.
That was six years ago, during the worst days of the slump in the real estate market. Therefore, Ebert said, some taxpayers in eastern Jackson County could see “sizable” increases, around 30 percent in some cases.
That step isn’t new, but the terminology is, for what used to be called an informal “appeal.”
Ebert described the word switch as “a cultural change” designed to make the process less adversarial. Officials in the assessment office can change values on their own.
Taxpayers not satisfied with the results of that review can then, as in the past, file a formal appeal with the Board of Equalization.