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Missouri Attorney General sues Jackson County over ‘illegal’ property assessments

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks to reporters outside the Western District Court of Appeals building in Kansas City while Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft waits for his turn the microphones. Bailey and Ashcroft had just attended arguments over the abortion initiative ballot titles rewritten by a Cole County judge.
Rudi Keller
Missouri Independent
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks to reporters outside the Western District Court of Appeals building in Kansas City.

The lawsuit from Republican Andrew Bailley alleges that Jackson County's assessment process was unlawful and filled with systemic failures, “from failing to provide proper notice and inspections under the law, to coercing property owners to drop their appeals."

Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey on Tuesday sued Jackson County and the county legislature, Assessor Gail McCann Beatty and Executive Frank White over this year’s property tax assessments.

The lawsuit alleges the assessment process was unlawful and accuses the county of systemic failures, “from failing to provide proper notice and inspections under the law, to coercing property owners to drop their appeals.”

It calls on the court to order any increase in assessed property value invalid and for monetary damages for property damages, as appropriate.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Bailey said complaints about the 2023 assessments have been pouring into his office.

“We’re glad Jackson County residents came forward to let us know how they were adversely affected by this illegal behavior,” Bailey said. “We encourage all Missourians to reach out when they need help.”

In a statement, the county said it would "vigorously and successfully defend this lawsuit as it has every lawsuit challenging its assessment process."

The suit also lists as defendants the Jackson County Board of Equalization, the body tasked with resolving assessment appeals, and Tyler Technologies, a private company that completed the assessments. Bailey accuses the defendants of unlawful levy of taxes and negligence, among other charges.

A day before, Republican State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick released scathing preliminary results of an audit of the assessment department, which found “deficiencies and non-compliance with state law.”

"That's led us to believe that as many as 200,000 Jackson County taxpayers have been victims of an assessment process that violated state statute and trampled on their rights," Fitzpatrick said.

He called on the county to invalidate all reassessments that increased a property's assessed value by more than 15%.

Jackson County Assessor Gail McCann Beatty said in a statement Monday that some of the auditor's conclusions were incorrect. In a Tuesday statement following Bailey's lawsuit, Beatty said her department has worked diligently to correct any inaccuracies in the assessment process.

"Any claims of wrongdoing are not only baseless but are a disservice to the taxpayers of Jackson County who we serve with integrity,” Beatty said.

In his lawsuit, Bailey says the county failed to mail assessment notices to taxpayers before the legally mandated June 15 deadline, and that required physical inspections were not performed, two issues Fitzpatrick also noted in his preliminary audit report.

On Monday, Beatty disputed Fitzpatrick’s interpretation of the state statute involving physical inspections.

In a statement Tuesday evening, County Executive Frank White, Jr. and Administrator Troy Schulte called the lawsuit politically motivated.

"It’s disappointing to see legal actions being used as tools for political gain, especially when they create confusion and unfairly reduce the community’s confidence in public institutions. Today’s lawsuit is another sad example of this unfortunate trend," Schulte said.

Tuesday’s lawsuit accuses Tyler Technologies of missing several deadlines, including a January 2023 deadline to complete final value estimates of homes. It also accuses the country of placing “formidable obstacles” before residents who hoped to appeal their assessments.

“For instance, the website for filing an appeal was riddled with technical issues and property owners would wait for hours in the telephone queue without receiving an answer or would be disconnected when they reached the front of the queue,” the lawsuit reads.

Jackson County’s assessment process has been under scrutiny for months. In September, Lee's Summit and Independence sued the county alleging White and McCann Beatty "fail and refuse their clear and unconditional duty to assess real property taxes in Jackson County in the way required by Missouri law," according to the lawsuit. A hearing is set for January 5.

In July, the State Tax Commission ruled against the county in an assessment dispute with the former owners of the County Club Plaza. A hearing officer ruled the county overvalued 20 Plaza properties by 38%.

If that ruling is upheld on an expected appeal, taxing districts — including Kansas City Public Schools — would be forced to refund the owners of the Plaza millions of dollars.

A group of taxpayers also sued Jackson County over the summer, but the Missouri Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday, agreeing with the county that constituents had not properly exhausted other options, like formal appeals, before filing suit.

“Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision reaffirms our steadfast commitment to lawful and fair property assessments,” White said in a statement.

Updated: December 19, 2023 at 8:13 PM CST
This story has been updated with statements from the Jackson County Executive, Assessor and Administrator.
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