Frank White began by stating the obvious as rows of taxpayers sat behind him, with frowns on their faces and signs on their laps, calling for his removal as leader of Jackson County government.
“I know the people are unhappy,” the county executive told the nine county legislators Monday. “Some are upset. Some are even angry.”
But White said he is powerless to reverse the dramatic increases in estimated real estate values set for tax purposes by his assessment department. It will mean steep jumps in property tax bills and rent for many of his 700,000 constituents.
“I’ve checked nine ways to Sunday at ways that we could look at the different suggestions that we’ve had from people on how we should do this,” White said, “but the state statutes doesn’t allow us to do this.”
As of last week’s cutoff, taxpayers had filed informal appeals on more than 21,000 of the 300,000 real estate parcels in the county. Many more formal protests will likely be filed before Monday’s deadline set by the Board of Equalization.
The county has hired private appraisal firms to help the board evaluate those cases over the next couple of months to see if White’s staff erred in setting values on individual homes and businesses.
But the board cannot undo the White administration’s decision to rectify in a single year past failures to accurately reflect the true value of real estate on the tax rolls. Many properties were grossly undervalued.
By increasing the values, White and assessment director Gail McGann Beatty have effectively increased some people’s taxes three- and four-fold, because local taxing districts are unlikely to cut their levies enough to negate such big increases.
Legislator Crystal Williams said it was “unconscionable” to raise values suddenly, rather than gradually over time. Others agreed that something needs to be done to cushion big hikes in value, but White said state law doesn’t give him that discretion. His chief administrative officer, Ed Stoll, said putting off the increases until the next reassessment in 2021 would mean even worse pain.
A representative of the West Side neighborhood, Jerry Roseburrough wasn’t interested in what he sees as excuses.
“We’re ready to start a Frank White recall petition,” Roseburrough said and asked for a show of hands from legislators who would join that effort.
No hands went up.
“This is not the forum for that,” legislator Dan Tarwater said.
But afterward, Roseburrough told a reporter that West Side residents plan to seek support for a possible recall campaign from other neighborhood groups.
“He’s let the county down,” Roseburrough said, listing a number of what he sees as White’s failures since being appointed county executive in 2016. He subsequently was elected twice, each time by a landslide.
A representative of the Ivanhoe neighborhood also spoke. Alan Young said he feared that big tax increases would undo 30 years of progress in that inner city community.
“At one time that was bar none the worst neighborhood in the city,” Young said. “It would have been nice if we had seen this coming.”
The board of equalization will have its organizational meeting on Wednesday. Hearings are likely to start soon after.