© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Legal Opinions Support A Jackson County Reassessment Redo

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
The Jackson County Board of Equalization has received a pair of legal opinions saying it has the authority to order a county-wide change to the 2019 property reassessment.

A pair of legal opinions, covering vastly different clients, supports some kind of blanket change in the 2019 Jackson County reassessment.

The first opinion, from Legal Aid of Western Missouri, landed with the Board of Equalization (BOE) a couple of weeks ago. Legal Aid is handling about 200 cases of low-income people in Kansas City whose property valuations jumped 200% to 300% on average and, in some cases, more than 1,000%, according to Legal Aid attorney Brandon Mason.

The Legal Aid memo concluded that under most circumstances, the BOE "is legally authorized, in fact compelled" to fix the 2019 reassessment mess.

The opinion's conclusions were reinforced this week by the Polsinelli law firm, one of the city's biggest and one with a prominent real estate practice. In a letter to the BOE's lawyer, the firm wrote, "We submit that it is well within the power and purview of this Board" to make across-the-board changes to the reassessment.

Among other clients, Polsinelli represents Taubman Properties of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which owns property on the Country Club Plaza. Records obtained through the Missouri Sunshine Law show that 25 Plaza properties ultimately owned by Taubman have appealed their assessments to the BOE.

The 2019 county assessment pegged the value of those 25 parcels at almost $421 million. Taubman says they're worth only $169 million, according to the BOE appeal records.

While their clients are very different, Legal Aid and Polsinelli both agree on the meaning of the relevant Missouri law. Both cite a state Supreme Court case stating the BOE has "the power and duty to effect intra-county equalization." In other words, both memos argue, the Board can raise or lower assessments on any or all properties in the county.

"I think the more voices that come together, the louder they are," Mason says.

The county argues the contrary. Its memo says the BOE has "limited authority to take county-wide action" because the "Board's function is appellate" in nature.  The BOE can only act on appeals from property owners, the county argues.

There are four plans before the BOE that would, in some fashion, reduce assessment amounts. One would simply roll back assessments to 2018 levels. Another could cap increases at the inflation rate.

Legal Aid is proposing to cap increases at 6%, but that would only apply to property east of Troost Avenue, south to 85th Street and north to Independence Ave. It would also include the Westside neighborhood.

Some of these proposals were on the BOE's Wednesday agenda but it took no action to study the legal opinions, according to BOE Chairman Christopher Smith.

The county says tax bills will nonetheless be mailed between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. The next BOE meeting isn't scheduled until Dec. 4.

That suggests that if the 2019 assessment is going to be adjusted, the BOE will have to schedule a special meeting.

KCUR intern Avery Gott contributed to this story. 

Sam Zeff is 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.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.