KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When it comes to 2019-20 property assessments in Jackson County, most people agree on one thing.
"It's a big mess," Teresa Perry, a community activist, said Monday before the Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors.
Perry was one of the citizens who spoke Monday at a public hearing about the district's tax levy rate, which the board will set on Wednesday.
"Please don't exploit and compound this horrible situation," Kansas City resident Richard Hernandez said. "You all could be a leader in the community if you wanted to."
The assessment debacle places the school district and other entities that benefit from property taxes in a difficult position, one that can only be understood by going back more than a decade.
Property values began to decline dramatically in 2007.
"Every other school district saw their rates go up to protect their revenues," KCPS Chief Finance and Operating Officer Linda Quinley said, "Kansas City didn't. Assessed valuation went down, and we had significant losses in revenues."
Here's where things get complicated.
There's a Missouri law known as the Hancock Amendment. It essentially protects property owners and taxing jurisdictions when there are dramatic changes in assessed valuation, like the ones many Jackson County residents currently are experiencing.
When there's a big increase in valuation, a taxing jurisdiction has to roll back its tax levy.
There are 518 school districts in the state of Missouri. KCPS is the only one exempt from the Hancock Amendment, and that's because its levy was established by a federal court order in 1995.
That makes it more difficult for KCPS to increase its tax rate.
"There's only one of us subject to Article X 11G, that says your tax rate is going to be set at this amount until the voters take it up or the board takes it down," Quinley said.
The district estimates it has lost out on $147 million in revenue since 2007.
That's why KCPS sees the new assessments as an opportunity for "recovery of historical losses."
"We have actually been lagging in the revenues we have been receiving for more than a decade, and so now we're almost being made whole so to speak," KCPS School Board President Pattie Mansur said.
The district, which also includes charter schools, estimates a 23-percent hike in property values under the latest assessment.
The additional revenue would be used for building repairs, like an air conditioning system at Pitcher Elementary, as well as programs.
"We would love to expand Pre-K classrooms," Quinley said. "This would allow us to do it without having to raise the tax levy."
The district provided estimates for the average increase individual homeowners could experience if the levy rate remains in the same.
For a home valued at $100,000 and with an average increase in valuation, the property tax would increase from $942 to $1,172.
But the district reminded residents that the KCPS total tax levy is currently lower than that of all surrounding Missouri school districts.
Still, the district and the board emphasized that they're sympathetic to the fear homeowners have about their tax bills.
"We hear that," Mansur said. "We also have a deep obligation to students in Kansas City. Our students need a lot, and they deserve the kind of schools you see in other parts of this community."