Government & Politics

Despite reassessment, most tax bills in Jackson County aren’t skyrocketing after all

Portrayed by some as an utter disaster that will price people out of their homes, this year’s property tax reassessment process has actually turned out to be a good thing for tens of thousands of Jackson County homeowners, according to a new report.

County government’s latest analysis shows that a quarter of all homeowners will pay less in property taxes this year than they did in 2018.

The vast majority of other homeowners will see increases far less than the triple-digit percentage hikes that some had feared, when their bill arrives in the mailbox next month.

Taxes will rise 25% or less on two-thirds of residential properties. A bigger hurt will be felt by the owners of 31,403 of the county’s 231,544 developed residential properties. Their taxes will go up by 25 to 100%.

Only 5,671 — about 2% — will see their tax bills more than double. It could be fewer, depending on whether those property owners are successful in convincing the board of equalization to lower their assessments.

Tax reassessment process

The new figures obtained by The Star through an open records request re-enforce the narrative that County Executive Frank White’s administration has been pushing for months.

As hysteria rose from some quarters over what has been characterized as a botched reassessment process, White’s chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, has stressed that reassessment would help some taxpayers and for most others not be as financially painful as the initial assessment notices led many people to believe it would be.

The new analysis bolsters that point and is based on the actual levies that various taxing districts set this fall after complying with state-mandated rollbacks. The numbers also reflect property values that were readjusted during the ongoing appeal process. But because it is not broken down by taxing district or neighborhood, the county’s broad-brush analysis does not show which areas will benefit from lower taxes and which will see their bills soar.

“I realize that this year’s state-mandated reassessment process has been difficult for many of our residents,” White said in a prepared statement issued late Monday afternoon. “Our assessment department continues to work overtime to make sure that all properties are valued accurately and fairly.”

Assessment Director Gail McCann Beatty gave a progress report at Monday’s regular meeting of the county legislature. Her office received 22,000 informal appeals on residential and commercial properties. She said all the residential appeals had been completed as of Saturday, and 272 commercial appeals were still pending.

The last of the residential notices will be arriving in mailboxes this week. Some people will be happy to see that their assessments have been reduced during the informal review. Others won’t be, she said, and will have three weeks to file a formal appeal with the board of equalization.

The board isn’t expected to finish its work until after property tax bills go out, which legislators fear will cause many taxpayers to panic, as those bills are due by Dec. 31. People who have appeals still pending will be responsible for paying their unadjusted tax bills by the deadline, or face penalties.

“When those bills start to drop,” at-large legislator Crystal Williams said, “it’s going to be mayhem. Absolute mayhem.”

Many of her constituents fear that the higher taxes will make it unaffordable to stay in their homes and have found the appeals process frustrating and confusing.

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Protesters angered by increases in property assessments gathered on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse with the Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the SCLC-GKC, on July 29, 2019. Jill Toyoshiba Star file photo

Sticker shock

White and his staff have been the subject of withering criticism from county legislators and some members of the public since assessment notices went out in June. Many homeowners were hit with sticker shock.

Beatty’s department was criticized for either making errors that set values for tax purposes on some properties at more than what they were worth, or for doing too good of a job in getting the values right in some neighborhoods where assessed values had been set artificially low for decades.

Last summer, The Star looked at one block within Kansas City’s West Side neighborhood and found that many houses had been on the tax rolls for years at one-fourth their current market values or even less. Owners didn’t challenge the accuracy of their new assessments so much as the sudden increase.

A consultant had recommended that the county gradually raise values over several two-year reassessment cycles to lessen the blow in cases like that, but White and his staff said state law did not provide them with that discretion. Property assessments are supposed to match market values.

“Shame on you,” legislative chairwoman Theresa Galvin scolded chief administrative officer Ed Stoll this summer for that decision to increase values all at once rather than spread out the increases over multiple reassessment cycles.

White’s top staff members maintained that they had a duty under state law to peg property values close to what they would sell for, and that by doing so they would make the system more equitable because some people were paying more than their fair share in taxes.

As a result, tax bills on 57,000 residential properties are seeing decreases. Most of those bills will go down by $100 or less, the analysis shows. At the other extreme, taxes are going up by $1,000 or more on 10,245 residential properties.

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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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