There are now 22,000 informal appeals related to the growing reassessment mess in Jackson County.
The Jackson County Board of Equalization (BOE), which decides formal appeals of property valuations, is now bracing to hear the cases from people who believe their property was overvalued in the recent reassessment.
"Twenty thousand cases is overwhelming," board vice chair Marilyn Shapiro said at a BOE meeting Thursday in Independence.
County Director of Assessment Gail McCann Beatty assured the BOE there are not 20,000 "valid cases" and that some people filed informal appeals "with the intent of overwhelming our system."
It's the latest development in the ongoing controversy surrounding Jackson County's reassessment of the 300,000 parcels of land in the county.
On Thursday, Gregg Lombardi, the head of the Lykins Neighborhood Association, accused the county of violating state law. Missouri law mandates that if the assessed value of a property increases by more than 15 percent, "the assessor shall conduct a physical inspection of such property," according to the statute.
“No one in the neighborhood has heard of any physical inspections,” Lombardi told KCUR.
The county insists it has "fully" complied with the law.
"Thanks to the advancement of technologies, appraisers are also able to utilize digital imaging technology tools, such as aerial and street view images, to conduct visual inspections remotely," county spokeswoman Marshanna Smith said in a statement.
Not all appraisers agree imaging technology is appropriate.
"To me, you need to see the property," said Kevin Bishop the Lincoln County Assessor and president of the Missouri State Assessors Association. "It's smarter to physically go out and look."
Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart agreed.
"We get in the car and we go out and look," she said.
While there are assessors around the county who use aerial or even drone photography, the question in Missouri is whether that fulfills the requirement of "physical inspection."
Lombardi said it does not.
“Physical inspection means going to the property with a person and seeing it,” he said.
Problems for school districts
The possibility of thousands of appeals to the BOE could spell problems for local school districts that are at work on their budgets. Until school districts, cities, fire districts and library districts know their assessed values, they can't estimate how much income they will have.
"It’s going to set the school districts back at least two or three months on what they’re able to do with their budgetary process," said Preston Smith, who represents the Blue Springs School District on the BOE.
Districts could “miss state deadlines," he said. "This really is a big deal.”
After 10 years on the board, Smith said he's never seen anything like this.
"This is the first time we've had this mass inconsistency," Smith said.
On average, the assessed value in Jackson County jumped 18 percent. But some property owners saw their valuation double or even triple.
Many of the properties, county officials said, are in the urban core, where poorer residents or people on fixed incomes might be unable to pay a significantly higher property tax bill.
Jackson County Legislative Chair Theresa Galvin said legislators are talking to each other and the county executive about trying to cushion the blow.
“I don’t know what the answers are right now, but we are still working on it and just investigating ways that we can help them now or in the future,” Galvin said.
While many properties' valuations skyrocketed, some went way down in value.
One property on West Paseo in the tony Beacon Hill neighborhood went from a $608,000 assessed value last year to about $308,000 this year. Another house on West 53rd Street, just a few hundred feet from Loose Park, had a 10 percent decrease in valuation.
It's a mystery because the county has yet to share the methodology its consultant used to value the properties. And it's a frustration to some on the BOE and others at the Thursday meeting, including Smith of the Blue Springs School District.
“It’s disconcerting that they’re not able to come immediately forward today and say here’s the process we used,” Smith said.
The county says it will make the information available at the BOE's next meeting on July 3. Property owners have until July 8 to appeal to the BOE.