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Poor Homeowners Were Unfairly Targeted By Jackson County Assessments, Critics Say

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
About 30 people rallied outside of the downtown Jackson County courthouse Thursday to urge the Board of Equalization to toss out the current reassessment and cap valuations. The BOE tabled the proposal and asked for more information.

The fight over the Jackson County reassessment mess is dragging on and becoming even more contentious as critics alleged the assessment discriminated against poorer areas.

The county Board of Equalization (BOE) on Thursday had a plan on its agenda that would throw out the assessment and cap property value increases at no more than 14 percent.

In the end, the BOE tabled the request and said it wanted more information before acting. "The impact could be far-reaching," said Christopher Smith, who chairs the board. 

The county legislative chamber in the downtown courthouse was standing room only. When the meeting started chairman Smith told Preston Smith (no relation), the author of the plan to cap increases, that he had five minutes.

That didn't sit well. “Mr. Chairman, I’m going to keep this mic until I finish the presentation,” Smith shot back with slight applause from the audience.

Smith, who represents the Blue Springs School District as a non-voting member of the board, has been the chief reassessment critic. He presented data to the board that suggested that the biggest hikes were targeted at the lowest income neighborhoods. Fifty-five percent of valuation increases of 15 percent or more were in the urban core, Smith said. In the rest of the county, just 14 percent of parcels saw such a hike.

“They targeted the poor areas in this assessment. It was pure discriminatory,” he said.

Smith said if something isn't done people will be taxed out of their homes.

Westside neighborhood activist Jerry Roseburrough agreed. “They picked on the most vulnerable people that don’t speak the language, don’t have computer access, don’t buy a newspaper because they can’t afford it," he said. "They’re the ones who are going to get hurt.”

Assessment Director Gail McCann-Beatty was at the meeting but did not address the accusations.

However, in a statement issued Wednesday, Jackson County Executive Frank White said he opposed the cap plan. He said the plan had legal issues and would "only create greater unfairness and inequity and property owners need to know that."

Despite opposition from White, the proposal to limit property value increases is still alive. “All we’re saying is, we need more information,” BOE chair Christopher Smith stressed. “We’re going to do what’s right, what’s fair and what’s lawful.”

Property owners have until July 29 to file an appeal with the BOE. At least 6,100 appeals have been filed and thousands more are expected.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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