Property owners in eight Jackson County neighborhoods can expect "significantly higher assessed valuations in 2021," according to new County Administrator Troy Schulte.
In one of his first detailed briefings to county legislators earlier this week, Schulte laid out a litany of problems suggesting that the county's assessment mess of 2019 might not be fully cleaned up for years.
Taxpayers will need to brace themselves for another rocky reassessment in 2021 and perhaps beyond, Schulte said, explaining that county data points toward big assessment hikes in eight neighborhoods:
- 95th and State Line
- Ward Parkway
- 49-63 Neighborhood
- South KC
- Martin City
- Lake Tapawingo
Schulte told legislators that property owners in those eight areas can expect hikes of 10% to 15% in assessed value in 2021. Schulte suggested taxpayers might want to start planning now for those big hikes by doing their own assessments.
Preston Smith, who represents the Blue Springs School District on the Board of Equalization (BOE) and was a loud critic of the 2019 assessment, said he is worried about making such a pronouncement so early. The county is "monkeying with the market" and it could result in "a fire sale to avoid taxes," he said.
Schulte also warned of a problem that is just beginning and could worsen in the coming months.
Thousands of taxpayers are waiting for appeal hearings at the BOE and, county data shows, most will have their assessed valuation reduced, meaning they will owe less property tax. But they had to pay the full amount to the county by Dec. 31. Taxpayers whose valuations are reduced on appeal will get a refund from the county — but the county is already falling behind on refunds.
"That will be the next crisis because we're behind on that and we're digging out of that hole,” Schulte told county legislators.
Legislator Chrystal Williams, an early critic of the reassessment, was furious when she heard that, noting that people had to delay purchases so they could pay their property taxes.
"They didn't buy things they wanted to for Christmas," she told KCUR. "They didn't buy laptops and computers for their students."
Property owners made 21,000 appeals last year, the most in county history. The BOE has only ruled on half of those, and expects to hear appeals through the end of March. Schulte said commercial appeals may run into late spring.
And the trouble doesn't stop there.
“We are horrifically behind the times in our (computer) system. Our current system is obsolete,” Schulte added. The Legislature has already budgeted $3 million for a new system, but even if the county spends that money soon it will be years before it sees the full benefit.
“It will provide some assistance for 2023, but really don't expect to see full functionality in a new system until 2025,” Schulte said.
That did not sit well with Legislator Ron Finley. "If we’re actually dealing with 2025 that’s very frustrating and disappointing to me,” he said at Monday's legislative meeting. “I pray that we’re still not talking about getting to 2025 before we have any appreciable results.”
Also, the Assessment Department says it needs 40 more assessors and new space so they can do their work. The Legislature has budgeted money for those hires, but finding 40 assessors isn't that easy. "It's a pretty scarce market,” according to Schulte.
Also, hiring staff before a new computer system would be a waste, said Legislator Dan Tarwater. “We can’t hire 40 people and train them on the old system and then train them on a new system,” he said.
While legislators were getting this bad news — some of it expected — the county was out looking for a consultant to help with the 2021 reassessment.
The request for proposal (RFP) requires the consultant to "make a personal inspection" of each of the 300,000 parcels of land in Jackson County. The lack of such physical inspections for thousands of properties is at the heart of four lawsuits challenging the 2019 reassessment.
There is also a tight timetable. Fieldwork, the RFP says, should be done about this time next year with the reassessment completed by August 2021.
"We're behind right now," said Preston Smith, the BOE's representative from Blue Springs.
Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.