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Jackson County 'soft launches' re-opening of Independence courthouse, appointment-only this week

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Posted at 5:20 PM, Apr 16, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County soft launched the re-opening of its Historic Truman Courthouse location Tuesday morning after being closed for for nearly two weeks due to a ransomware attack.

The building opened at its normal 8 a.m. time, where there was a line outside awaiting entry.

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The difference between this line and the lines normally outside the courthouse, is this one was full of people with no idea about the soft launch’s meaning.

“I didn’t even know about the soft opening,” said Darian Guein, a Jackson County resident there to pay his property taxes so he could get his semi-truck registered for his trucking business. “I didn’t know about that. Had I not been here yesterday and spoke with the gentleman, I would never have known that.”

The county explained the soft-opening meant that it would directly reach out to people whose appointments were canceled due to the ransomware attack. This entire week will be appointment-only, and people who show up without appointments will be turned away until next Monday, April 22.

“If you get a call and they set an appointment, you have an appointment to come in, and we can get you serviced,” said Scott Lakin, director of the collection department for the county. “But other than that, if you’re just going to walk in, then it’ll be at least a week, next Monday.”

Lakin joined other county employees at the courthouse entrance to explain to residents how the soft launch worked. Many people were unhappy to hear the news, something Lakin attributes to a communication disconnect.

“People weren’t happy when we turned them away, but again, that’s a communication issue that we need to make sure people know, ‘Yeah, we’re open to a degree with this soft opening, but we’re easing into full operation,’” Lakin said.

Long before the cyber attack, the courthouse experienced long lines, something Lakin says the county was working to address prior to April 2.

“We had a plan, we were working on those two weeks ago and we got the cybersecurity hack and had to shut things down, so our attention shifted,” Lakin said. “We want to open other locations throughout the county, not have just this one in Independence. We also want to work with different municipalities, we want to work with other groups and other government agencies.”

With those long-term solutions set back for the time being, Lakin says the county has implemented some short-term solutions, such as being open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday, April 20, and from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. all Saturdays in May.

“We hear [taxpayers], you know, quite clearly,” Lakin said. “And you know, this is the one directive I’ve gotten from the County Executive’s office, ‘Get those lines shorter.’ And I’m working closely with the assessor to do that. We’re actually meeting on a regular basis, the assessor and myself as the collector, and brainstorming ideas to help shorten those lines.”

Some taxpayers who didn’t need to make adjustments through the assessors office of their bills, like Jenny Ballew, were able to be seen Tuesday. Ballew arrived after the initial line died down to get a copy of her personal property tax receipt.

“[I was] in and out in 5 minutes,” she said. “I saw the lines, and I thought, ‘Oh I’m gonna give this a shot and just show up.’ It was amazing."

Ballew’s success is what Lakin says is possible for some taxpayers.

“If you have to have some adjustment through the assessor’s office of your bill, I would recommend you don’t come in first thing Monday because there will be a long line out,” Lakin said. “What you want to do is wait until later in the afternoon or wait ‘till later in the week next week, and make sure you can get your bill paid in April.”

When we asked if the county is still waiving all penalties and interest for taxpayers accumulated in April, the county said its extending the deadline for residents to file their personal property declaration from April 30 to May 31.

Lakin says taxpayers should monitor the county's website for any updates.