Government & Politics

New class-action lawsuit challenges fairness of Jackson County reassessment process

Assessments went way up in West Side this year. Some by 400% or more

Assessments went way up in Kansas City's West Side neighborhood this year. Some by 400 percent or more
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Assessments went way up in Kansas City's West Side neighborhood this year. Some by 400 percent or more

A Hyde Park home owner has sued Jackson County’s assessor, charging that her home has been overvalued and asking the court to invalidate the recently completed reassessment of all 300,000 real estate parcels countywide.

Christine Taylor-Butler, who lives in the 700 block of Manheim Road in Kansas City, filed the class-action lawsuit Monday in state circuit court on behalf of everyone who pays property taxes in Jackson County.

It is believed to be the first lawsuit challenging the 2019 reassessment and names assessment director Gail McCann Beatty in her official capacity as the lone defendant. Values rose by more than 15 percent on one third of all homes in the county.

Taylor-Butler, an author who writes children’s books, alleges that the county’s method for setting values on real estate for tax purposes is unfair and violates the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions. Market values on similar properties should be the same per square foot on county tax rolls, but they are not and Taylor-Butler cites her own house and a duplex she owns as examples.

The lawsuit asks that the county adopt more equitable valuation methods that would include a physical inspection of every property, as required by state law, whenever estimated market values increase by 15 percent.

Currently those inspections are most often done by reviewing photographs, and values are set by using a computer model.

State law requires that taxable values reflect what properties would sell for today. Some values are four times higher than they were at the close of the last reassessment, in 2017.

Overall, the big increases are the result of an attempt by County Executive Frank White’s administration to make up for past mistakes in setting values too low. That approach resulted in big, one-time hikes that White’s critics say should have been phased in over several years.

In other cases, mistakes were made. That’s what Taylor-Butler alleges. A real estate agent estimated the value of her house at $380,000, or about 12 percent more than it had been assessed at previously.

However, the assessment department set the value at $594,000, based in part on inaccurate information. The county said the house is 5,074 square feet. Taylor-Butler said it’s only 3,900 square feet.

If those numbers stand, her tax bill would increase from $5,400 in 2018 to $8,400 this year.

The county said it does not comment on pending litigation, but in a written statement Tuesday afternoon stressed that taxpayers with concerns about their valuations should file appeals with the Board of Equalization before July 8.

The assessment department is also continuing to process informal reviews of homes and businesses whose owners have challenged the accuracy of their assessments.

“These processes are available to ensure property owners are heard and that corrections, when appropriate, are made,” the statement said.

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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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