KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Legislature on Friday asked County Executive Frank White to discard property assessments that generated more than 21,000 appeals from residents, saying the assessments have created a “burden” on taxpayers.
In a letter, the group of nine legislators said it was clear there were “numerous grave errors" in the 2019 assessments recently sent to Jackson County residents.
“We respectfully request those reassessments be discarded, and you provide a resolution to this situation,” legislators wrote to White. “The massive swings in home and land values, often on the same block, cause us to distrust the process used in valuation.”
The legislators also acknowledged in their letter that “many thousands of notices” were sent to residents too late for them to file for an informal review.
“It has been grossly unfair to require our constituents to wage this battle on their own, when we can all see how seriously flawed the process has been,” the legislators wrote.
County officials have said that many properties that saw sharp increases this year were previously undervalued.
“None of us argue that we should have properly valued homes, but it’s not our constituents’ responsibility, in one year to fix this issue especially when many of the values are calculated wrong,” the letter said.
After initially taking to social media to express frustration and call the Legislature's request illegal, White issued a lengthy response through his office around 6:40 p.m.
(1/2)Apparently Jackson County Legislators have put out a statement asking me to halt the assessment process. So they want ME to break state law because THEY lack the political will to do what’s right? It’s that lack of political will that keeps the County from moving forward.— Frank White (@Frank20White) June 28, 2019
Among the highlights from White's statement are the fact he said he still hadn't received the letter.
He also said he would not freeze assessment values at last year's level and discard all 2019 valuations.
"While I expect this type of cheap political stunt from some on the Legislature, I must admit that I am surprised and saddened by some legislators’ participation," White said. "The County Assessor, County Associates and citizens deserve much more from each of them."
He pointed out that a rebounding real estate market and decades of undervalued property in Jackson County contributed to the current mess. He said the Legislature understands and some members have even publicly acknowledged it, yet no action has been taken.
"It’s that lack of political will that keeps the County from moving forward and I will not kick the can down the road again," White said. "I will not break the law because they are afraid to do what’s right. I will be politically courageous enough to stand up and do the right thing, even when it’s not popular."
While admitting that many taxpayers are "confused, scared and in some cases, angry," he defended the process and Jackson County Assessor Gail McCann-Beatty.
"Anyone who tries to blame Jackson County Assessor Gail McCann Beatty for this situation is both uninformed and quite simply wrong," White said. "She is doing her job ethically and fairly and I will continue to support her."
Under state law, certified values must be delivered to the County Clerk on July 1, which is Monday, and White said the Assessment Department will deliver those values as required.
Here is the full text of White's response:
Today I received notice from my staff, who learned through the media, that a letter was being sent to me from members of the Jackson County Legislature. A letter I have still yet to receive from the Legislature.
In that letter, members of the Jackson County Legislature requested that I discard all of the 2019 assessment values and freeze those values at last year’s level.
I will absolutely not do so.
Their request is illegal and would cause many to pay more than their fair share of taxes because those whose property is properly assessed would continue to be responsible for their taxes, and would have to pay for those whose property is undervalued.
How is that equitable? How is that fair? How does that help our schools, libraries and mental health services?
While I expect this type of cheap political stunt from some on the Legislature, I must admit that I am surprised and saddened by some legislators’ participation. The County Assessor, County Associates and citizens deserve much more from each of them.
We know that the real estate market has improved. We know Jackson County has undervalued many properties for decades. The legislature knows this too, in fact, it’s in their letter. Legislative member Crystal Williams stated it during Monday’s legislative meeting:
We’ve also been undervalued in Jackson County because of a lack of political will to address these issues for what appears to be decades. That’s understandable.”
Now she and her colleagues are doing the exact same thing.
It’s that lack of political will that keeps the County from moving forward and I will not kick the can down the road again. I will not break the law because they are afraid to do what’s right. I will be politically courageous enough to stand up and do the right thing, even when it’s not popular.
Furthermore, I understand taxpayers are confused, scared and in some cases, angry that they are now being assessed at fair market value. They have every right to voice their concerns, to have their questions answered, and most importantly, to a fair and accurate assessment. Our assessment department has been and continues to work with everyone to ensure that happens. Legislative member Ron Finley acknowledged that during Monday’s legislative meeting:
I don’t see yet that there’s some big conspiracy going on to run everybody off the west side. I know you have that impression, but you’ve heard the assessor saying they’ve gotten complaints. They’re looking at what they can do.”
This Legislature is failing to give the assessor adequate time to do her job. And anyone who tries to blame Jackson County Assessor Gail McCann Beatty for this situation is both uninformed and quite simply wrong. She is doing her job ethically and fairly and I will continue to support her.
Lastly, state statute says the assessor must deliver certified values to the County Clerk on or before July 1. As such, the assessor will fulfill her responsibility.
If the Legislature directs the County Clerk to break the law and not send those certified values to taxing authorities, that’s up to them. The County Clerk does not report to me, she reports to the Legislature.”