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Jackson County Legislature freezes property taxes for seniors after controversial assessments

A house is surrounded by a chain link fence. The fence is decorated with banners celebrating the Kansas City football team. Christmas lights hang off the roof and fence.
Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Gomez's house on the Westside saw its tax assessment skyrocket in recent years, making it difficult for her to pay.

Under the legislation, Jackson County seniors whose homes are valued less than $550,000 can start applying for relief next year.

Thousands of senior citizens in Jackson County will soon be eligible for a property tax break, following this year’s most recent assessments.

The county legislature voted Monday to approve a tax credit, which would essentially freeze property taxes at the 2023 level for currently eligible seniors. Under the ordinance, homeowners in Jackson County who can receive Social Security and whose home has a market value, as determined by the assessment process, less than $550,000 are eligible for the tax credit beginning next year.

Seniors will still have to pay their property taxes for 2023. Next year, if they are eligible for the program, seniors would see their property tax bill frozen at the 2023 level, something supporters say will benefit people living on a fixed income.

The tax relief was made possible when Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 190 into law, authorizing a property tax credit for seniors. Counties can choose whether to implement the credit. In July, the St. Louis City Council rejected a similar plan.

Legislator DaRon McGee was one of the sponsors of the measure.

“The passage of this ordinance reflects the commitment we have for our constituents throughout the county and our dedication to support and push forward legislation that protects and positively impacts the livelihoods and the day to day life of those in Jackson County,” McGee said in a statement.

Legislator Charlie Franklin abstained from voting because he said he would be eligible for the tax credit.

During public hearings, some residents said it wouldn’t be fair if wealthier seniors, whose homes have high market values, received tax relief compared to those living on fixed incomes.

Legislator Manny Abarca IV said that's why the legislature included a provision in which seniors would only be eligible if their home was valued less than $550,000.

“That way it doesn't provide relief to individuals who had higher end homes,” he said.

Seniors will have to submit their application by the end of April 2024 to receive the tax credit, which Abarca said will allow taxing jurisdictions like school districts to take the tax relief into account as they set their annual budgets.

The tax credit is calculated by finding the difference between an eligible senior’s real property tax liability on their home for a given tax year and the real property tax liability on the home in the year the senior becomes eligible for the credit, which would only go as far back as 2023. Under the county ordinance, a senior cannot receive a tax credit for any years before 2023.

Legislators will introduce a subsequent ordinance to create specific rules and procedures around establishing the application process and enacting this ordinance.

A woman walks down the street in Kansas City, Missouri, on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Orlin Wagner
Associated Press
The 2023 property assessment process has caused frustration among many residents, particularly senior citizens who live on fixed incomes.

Passage of the senior tax credit follows a property assessment process that has caused frustration among many Jackson County homeowners. Property values have increased by around 40% since the last assessment process in 2021.

The county assessor and the Board of Equalization are currently reviewing the 54,539 appeals of property assessments that were filed by July 31. As of Sep. 12, 27,897 appeals were resolved, representing about 51%. Lee's Summit and Independence have both filed lawsuits against the county over the latest reassessments.

Jackson County homeowners pleaded with legislators last week and in previous public hearings for some kind of property tax relief.

“Those of us who are seniors — and I'm one that lives on a fixed income, I'm disabled and only have a certain amount of revenue — can't afford to have our property values go up and up and up when our home needs more and more work as it ages,” said Keith Spare, president of the South Plaza Neighborhood Association.

A different ordinance that would have established a senior tax credit without any restrictions on home value failed to pass the legislature last week.

The move comes as school districts across Missouri set their tax levies, allowing them to make their revised budgets for the year. The tax credit could complicate that process because school districts may not know what their collection rate will be.

Missouri schools rely heavily on local sources, like property taxes, to fund classrooms. The tax credit could reduce the amount of revenue brought in from eligible seniors.

Kim Cranston, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Business Officials, said these variables make creating a school budget even more difficult for school administrators.

“They'll use the information they have at the time and they'll make their best assessment of it and make their best forecast of what's happening,” Cranston said. “But it will be more challenging because they won't know the actual numbers.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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