Government & Politics

In assessment shock? Don’t panic just yet. Take action to avoid that big tax hit

In assessment shock? Don’t panic just yet. Take action to avoid that big tax hit

Assessments on single family homes in Jackson County were up 18 percent on average this year, but some are far higher. But county officials say you can steps to challenge the increase and avoid a bigger tax bill.
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Assessments on single family homes in Jackson County were up 18 percent on average this year, but some are far higher. But county officials say you can steps to challenge the increase and avoid a bigger tax bill.

Some Jackson County homeowners are shocked to learn how much the tax assessor thinks their houses are worth, while others are quietly relieved that they’ve skated by yet again with a valuation they know is lower than it should be.

Every two years, this same scenario plays out as county governments in Missouri attempt to comply with a state mandate requiring that property values on which tax bills are based reflect market conditions as closely as possible.

In other words, if your house would sell for $200,000, that’s what it ought to be listed for on the tax rolls.

It doesn’t always work out that way. Some homes are overvalued. Even when the assessor hits it just right, people are unhappy to learn that the system has finally caught up with them and they could face a jump in their tax bill.

In both cases, they tend to scream in agony, as in this series of tweets from some Hyde Park residents.

“Our Jackson County property assessment is up 66 percent?! Are you kidding me?” one woman wrote.

“Ours is up 33%.” replied another.

“Over 84% here,” tweeted someone else. “(And that’s after a significant increase of around 40% in 2017, too....)“

Overall , residential real estate property values were up an average 18 percent from two years ago; 16 percent for single-family houses, assessment director Gail McCann Beatty said. Some 84 percent of all homeowners saw an increase, compared with 92 percent across the state line in Johnson County.

The range of increases in Jackson County was wide, which accounts for many of the phone calls officials are fielding from taxpayers hit with sticker shock.

“I understand that some people have been hit hard, but I have an obligation that we meet market value,” Beatty said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “There is no real advantage for me to overvalue your home.”

While more than half of all homeowners—54 percent—saw increases of 15 percent or less, nearly a third opened their tax assessment notice to find that the county’s appraisers hiked their market values by more than that.

A lot more in some cases. Some houses in Lake Lotawana, for instance, went up 75 percent. In Kansas City, Mayola McFeders’ house in the 2500 block of West Paseo Boulevard more than doubled thanks to the gentrification of that neighborhood.

“I expected it,” said Frances Boyd, who lives and cares for her 96-year-old mother in the house the family’s lived in since 1945. Formerly on the tax rolls at $32,000, it now has a market value of $109,927 for tax purposes. That’s close to what the real estate brokerage sites Redfin.com and Zillow.com say the three-bedroom bungalow is worth.

However, Caleb Dermyer’s assessment was way, way off, he said, and has the papers to prove it.

According to the county, his house in the 2700 block of Charlotte Street is worth $256,324, nearly four times more than it was on the books for in 2018.

“When I opened up the letter my heart just sank,” Dermyer said. Should that value stand, he and his wife, Alexandra Dingli-Attard, could be forced to pay more than $4,000 when their taxes come due in December, instead of last year’s $1,010 bill.

But that’s not likely because Dermyer has the documentation to prove that he and Dingli-Attard bought the house last year for $135,000 and will present that evidence to get the value corrected.

Some big commercial properties also more than doubled in value, better reflecting their actual market values or vastly overstating them, depending on one’s point of view. Commercial property owners stung with such increases pay out big legal fees to prove the assessment department erred.

Homeowners don’t have to hire a lawyer. If you were hit with a big increase, county officials urge calm for now. Your property taxes won’t necessarily go up by the same percentage as your increased assessment. The local taxing districts can and do adjust their levies downward at times.

And property owners can be proactive by challenging their increased assessment value.

There are two ways to do this.

First, you can ask for an informal review before June 24. You can do that online by filling out a form at www.jacksongov.org/review or call the assessment department at (816) 881-4601.

The assessment department knows the process is far from perfect. The review allows property owners a chance to present information showing that their house isn’t worth what the county says it is.

From the outside, your house might look every bit as good as the next one, but perhaps the interior hasn’t been updated in decades. Or you might provide proof of structural or interior damage that the county assessors couldn’t see from the street.

A recent appraisal or sale listing might also help prove your case, which is what Dermyer is relying on to keep his taxes from skyrocketing.

Another way to get your value lowered for tax purposes is through a formal appeal through the county Board of Equalization. The deadline for filing an appeal has been extended this year to July 8.

The board will begin hearing cases July 1 through Aug. 24, although the board could choose to extend the end date.

However things turn out, your tax bill won’t be due until the end of the year.

Mike Hendricks is a member of The Star’s investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips and story ideas in confidence by email to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or anonymously via Signal encrypted message at 816-234-4738

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