Raytown superintendent Allan Markley wants to show why he thinks a systemic pattern of low commercial property assessments is costing his school district millions of dollars.
But he says the Jackson County Board of Equalization has blocked his efforts to get a hearing and also violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
It’s an unusual claim before the board, which is used to hearing appeals from property owners, not superintendents, on the county’s property assessments. But the stakes could hardly be higher. Markley in a lawsuit has presented evidence of undervalued properties just in his district, but he has gotten the attention of many of the 11 other Jackson County school districts.
“I bet that they are (looking) now,” he said. “This is a huge problem.”
On some two dozen properties detailed in the lawsuit, he lists more than $23 million difference between what buyers spent on the properties, based on certificates of value, and how the properties were valued by the county’s assessment department in 2015.
That difference would equal about $400,000 in operating revenue to the district and ease debt service costs and improve bond ratings, Markley said.
And those properties were found in just a sample of the district.
He cited one of the larger concerns — a Walgreens at Blue Parkway and Gregory Boulevard. Its latest certificate of value was for $5.9 million, but it was assessed at $1.6 million.
“How many Walgreens are there in the county?” Markley asked. “And apartment complexes and convenience stores” and other commercial properties?
“So it goes from a $23 million problem to a hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars problem,” he said. “Yet the Board of Equalization doesn’t want to hear our complaint.”
Officials with the Board of Equalization have not been made available for comment.
School districts have been concerned with assessments throughout the area, not just in Jackson County, said Gayden Carruth, executive director of the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City.
They have had concerns of whether assessment offices have adequate staffing, which are heightened by Raytown’s claims and questions of how widespread the problems may be.
“I think there will be a lot of interest in the outcome,” Carruth said. “It could be exponential.”
Markley is making the claim to the Board of Equalization himself as a taxpayer, resident and parent in the county because school districts don’t have legal standing to argue against property assessments.
He has been seeking a hearing since last July and says in a lawsuit filed Feb. 12 that the Board of Equalization has put him off and failed to provide information on public meeting agendas.
A letter from board chairman Robert D. Murphy to Markley’s attorney in October noted that Markley’s request to argue against commercial property assessments on other owners’ properties was unusual.
“Our board has no record of having ever proceeded in such a manner,” the letter said.
“Our board is very uncertain of possibly issuing raise notices to property owners separate of the Office of the Jackson County, Missouri, Assessor,” Murphy wrote.
And in any cases in which the Board of Equalization determined property values were inaccurate, the property owners would receive proper notice and be able to defend their properties’ valuations.
Markley knows he is sticking his neck out. The lawsuit notes that in December, a Raytown administrator received a phone call from a taxpayer who said the Board of Equalization had sent a letter stating that the school district was “appealing their property value and trying to raise their taxes.”
Markley asked, “Are they trying to get us to back off? I don’t know.”
Schools districts depend heavily on property taxes, as do library districts, fire districts and agencies providing other services.
“We’re not asking anyone to raise taxes,” Markley said. “We’re asking for equity across the board. Those who are paying fairly are the ones paying the price.”
Raytown, like many districts, saw its local tax revenue suffer during the economic downturn after 2008. As fortunes improved, commercial valuations began to rise, but not by as much as the district had hoped, Markley said.
So the district had the White Goss law firm look into valuations early in 2015, which led to Markley’s request in the summer to present concerns to the board.
The lawsuit describes several attempts to get on the board’s agenda and difficulties in getting information about the public meetings.