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Jackson County homeowner stunned by $2M property tax assessment on $200k home

'We as taxpayers are getting screwed'
Jackson County Property Owner Salina Contreras.jpg
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jun 29, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Salina Contreras moved to her dream home on seven acres in Kansas City in 2019.

She lives there with her husband and dogs.

"He wanted land and I wanted a porch, so here we are," Contreras said.

For the past several years, Contreras' property tax assessment on her home came in at around $200,000.

This year her home saw a stunning 950 percent increase to more than $2 million.

"If I'd have known I was a millionaire, I'd retire," Contreras said.

Contreras said she never received her tax assessment in the mail as required by law.

It wasn't until a neighbor encouraged Contreras to look online that she discovered her home is now valued at $2.1 million.

"This isn't just a little mistake, this is a huge mistake," Contreras said.

If she didn't catch the error and appeal, $40,000 in taxes could've automatically come out of Contreras' escrow account for the assessed price of her home, according to Chris Wolfenbarger, a 25-year veteran appraiser.

"She wasn't ever notified by the county her assessment had gone from $200,000 to $2 million—and because of that—you can't fight," Wolfenbarger said. "You can't appeal. You don't know. If she didn't have a neighbor looking out for her she'd be on the hook and that's what makes me furious."

Wolfenbarger pulled properties nearby for comparison and said those homes fall between $260,000 and $351,000.

It's unknown how many homeowners across Jackson County are getting inaccurate assessments but workshops to teach people how to appeal have filled to capacity.

"We're seeing a 100 percent to 200 percent increase across the board," Wolfenbarger said.

Many of the homes seeing large increases are because the properties were assessed at too low of a cost for too long.

But, several mistakes are occurring in the process.

The KSHB 41 I-Team learned Contreras' home was evaluated as commercial property, which created a false value in the database that generates the assessments.

"To go from $200k to $2 million is a computer error that's so egregious that human oversight should've caught that and didn't," Wolfenbarger said.

Tyler Technologies is the company used by the county that generates the property values. The county entered into an $18 million contract with Tyler.

It's a contract that's paid for by taxpayers like Contreras.

"We as taxpayers are getting screwed," Contreras said. "Who's at fault here?"

Neither the county assessor nor Tyler Technologies would acknowledge how the error occurred, only that it was human error.

The county sent the I-Team this statement:

Tyler and the Assessment department work closely together. I think the important thing is that the mechanisms in place, namely the Value Review, worked as intended. The mistake was identified, corrected expeditiously and without the need for an appeal hearing. The Assessment department is completing about 250 Value Reviews daily, providing expedited resolution for many property owners.

The county did fix Contrera's assessment, which is back in the $200,000 range.

While the county credits its safeguards for identifying issues, Contreras said, like so many others across the county, she's the one who caught the error.

"We shouldn't have to," Contreras said. "Get these assessments right. Somebody absolutely needs to be held accountable."

Contreras did not have to pay for an appraisal to appeal the assessment due to the obvious nature of the error. However, in instances where it's not so clear, Wolfenbarger said it's the homeowners who have to pay to fix the county's mistakes.

"Let's just call it what it is...theft," Wolfenbarger said. "If you assess my house so poorly after you've been paid $18 million to do it right, and I got to pay Chris Wolfenbarger $500 to come out and prove you wrong, you stole $500 from me because you didn't do your job."