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Jackson County school districts: Reduced property assessments would be 'devastating'

jackson county boe meeting.jpg
Posted at 11:33 AM, Dec 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-04 18:20:04-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the Jackson County Board of Equalization considers whether to halt this year's property assessment process, Kansas City Public Schools and Center School District say it would be devastating if they did.

Linda Quinley, chief financial and operations officer for KCPS, told the Jackson County Board of Equalization on Wednesday morning that a reduction in property value assessments would cost the district millions of dollars in revenue.

Quinley told the board at a procedural meeting that if it decides to roll back assessed property values, the district would lose $20 million in revenue.

"Those are going to be services that are not teachers, because teachers are under contract, but other staff who provide support services like social work, social and emotional, central office staff. We could reduce busing services, we could reduce meal services," Quinley said.

Quinley read a letter from Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell, urging the BOE to “stay the course” and continue to hear appeals without altering anything.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the BOE also read a letter from the Center School District, which said it too does not want rollbacks.

The letter said such action would have a “devastating impact” on salaries and learning. The school district said it will take action to block any rollbacks.

41 Action News reporter Sarah Plake reported KCPS contributed $75,000 to the county to pay the assessor’s consultant, John Q. Ebert and Associates Consulting, that helped do the mass appraisal. KCPS's charter schools contributed another $75,000.

Many critics of the assessment process believe the consultant is one of the reasons the county is now in its current predicament.

In June, Jackson County residents were shocked by increases in their property assessments. Many property owners saw tax bills double, or even triple.

The county told 41 Action News a total of 11 taxing jurisdictions voluntarily contributed to the reappraisal work Ebert performed.

The graphic below shows the specific amounts contributed by each entity.

The contributions accounted for $285,810 — more than half Ebert's $450,000 fee. The county paid the remaining $164,190.

Marilyn Shapiro, BOE vice chair, questioned KCPS about its payment.

"So, in essence, you believed that if a school district contributed to the income of the consultant, that that consultant would, with the assessment department, find a way to increase those values?" Shapiro asked Quinley.

"To the correct market values," Quinley replied.

"Is that a quid pro quo?" Shapiro asked.

Quinley said it was not.

"We made full legal review to make sure we were not paying for values," Quinley said.

Quinley said KCPS agrees there were clear mistakes in the assessment process, but at the end of the day, schools need the property tax money based on fair market values.

"We wanted to make sure they understood the impact to the children of our community under those proposals offered," Quinley said.

Local attorney Sherry DeJanes is encouraging those who feel their assessment is too high to pay their taxes under protest, which means the disputed money is put into another fund and the county cannot use it until everything is settled.

The BOE asked DeJanes to be at the meeting to talk about her suggestions.

"I prefer the resolution be that you roll back to last year and that we actually do the kind of reassessment that is required by statute," DeJanes said.

DeJanes is representing dozens of frustrated homeowners pro-bono. For every client she takes on, she files a Sunshine Request asking the county to provide the property's entire assessment file.

"Every one that I've submitted has nothing indicating that there was ever a physical appraisal done on any of the properties that exceeded a 15 percent rate increase, or increase in appraised value. By statute, that's required," DeJanes told the BOE.

She said she believes a Writ of Mandamus would be effective. That would entail a judge telling the BOE they have the power to stop the process.

Despite thousands of appeals, the county decided not to re-do the assessment.

Though the appeal process is expected to drag well into the new year, property taxes are still due by Dec. 31.