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Troy Schulte: Jackson County assessments could skyrocket again in 2021

Posted at 7:58 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 16:28:36-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New Jackson County Administrator Troy Schulte said residents countywide should expect even higher property value assessment increases in 2021, the next time the county will undertake the process again.

If you thought the 2019-20 assessment cycle was bad, and it's created an overload of appeals and citizen outrage, Schulte said it probably will be worse in 2021. That warning applies even if you were granted an appeal in 2019.

"If they had their values reset by the Board of Equalization, the fundamental property values haven't changed," Schulte, who left his post as Kansas City, Missouri, city manager to work for the county in early December. "In fact, they've gone up."

The county is obligated to assess values within 90% of fair market value, and Schulte said the county's assessments aren't there yet.

In addition to the neighborhoods that were already hit hard in 2019, like areas east of downtown and the Westside, the county expects other neighborhoods to see high assessed value increases in the coming years:

  • Brookside
  • Waldo
  • South Kansas City
  • Martin City
  • The 49/63 Neighborhood, which stretches from 49th Street to 63rd Street between Oak Street and The Paseo.
  • Neighborhoods around 95th Street and State Line Road
  • The Ward Parkway area
  • Lake Tapawingo

Tammy Peoples has lived in 49/63 Neighborhood for 35 years and was appalled at her property assessment last summer. She appealed and the county ended up lowering it.

"It's already upped my payment, upped my payment $200 (per month)," Peoples said. "I can't afford that."

Schulte said real estate values are going up 5% to 8% every year, with a brisk housing market fueling increased assessment values.

"(There's) a lot of demand for some of those urban-core real estate," Schulte said. "We're seeing a lot of revitalization in the urban-core neighborhoods that had languishing values for decades, and now we're seeing them significantly increase."

Residents in those neighborhoods often referred the increased interest in surrounding properties, and the accompanying increased assessed values, using one word — gentrification.

"It's going to mean they're going to push us out," Peoples said. "I've already had neighbors sell their property and move out."

So has Jess Buck, who lives in Troostwood and has spoken with 41 Action News several times about the assessment process.

Buck said his two neighbors sold their homes shortly after they got a hefty increased property assessment in the mail.

"(Since) this is the specific neighborhood they’re targeting for the increase, they should do big time increases — better sidewalks, sewers, water pipes," Buck said.

The city, not the county, maintains those services and infrastructure, but Buck's sentiment underscores widespread frustration with the assessment process.

The Board of Equalization received 21,208 formal appeals in 2019, a figure that does not include any additional informal appeals received by the Assessment Department. There are 300,000 properties in Jackson County that must be assessed every two years.

So far, fewer than half have been heard with 10,920 formal appeals remaining, a process the county hopes to finish by March 31. Commercial and industrial appeals may take longer, dragging into late spring because the county has only one commercial appraiser.

The Board of Equalization has granted 70% of taxpayers' appeals, but Schulte warned that winning an appeal now may not matter during the ' cycle.

Around 98% of the appeals filed are arguing for a less than or up to 10% decrease.

During the interim, Schulte said the county is working to hire more staff, so they can do physical inspections, improve their technology and communicate better with taxpayers.

The state mandates that the county should send an appraiser to do a physical inspection if a residential property assessment goes up 15% or more. Many residents saw their assessments go up much higher than that, but no representative of the Assessment Department came to their home.

Often, the county relied only on remote inspections using aerial imagery and street views — the minimum required by law. A new ordinance would require physical inspections moving forward and better notification of property regarding their rights during this process.

A lot of other residents saw an increase of 14.9%, which has drawn a lot of criticism because it was a purposeful and arbitrary increase the understaffed county passed along when it ran out of time to complete the assessment process properly.

The blanket 14.9% increases fell just short of the state's mandatory physical inspection requirements.

Schulte said the county needs to hire around 50 more employees and fill the existing 17 vacancies on its 74-person staff. The county also plans to increase salaries in hopes of attracting more employees.

This extra staffing, Schulte said, would reduce the county's dependence on consultants — like John Q. Ebert and Associates, which the county paid roughly $660,000 during the 2019 assessment period.

Given the seriously flawed assessment process and resulting backlash, that's an amount that has drawn scorn from many city officials and residents.

"We will not be using the same consultant," Schulte said.

He added that any new consultant brought in would not receive the same exorbitant contract.

Bringing the county's technology up to date will be an expensive but much-needed project, which Schulte said they're working on now. The Assessment Department uses Sigma, an outdated and obsolete program for compiling assessed property values.

Schulte said a new system will cost at least $10 million and won't be fully functional until 2025.

Until then, he wants to bring in more tools to help staffers perform the next assessment, such as a Market Value Analysis program that analyzes neighborhood values on a block-by-block basis.

The county is also looking to hire to someone to maintain assessment records and data, though it's unclear how those duties would differ from Assessment Director Gail McCann Beatty's duties.

Jackson County also recently hired Maureen Monaghan from the State Tax Commission to serve as deputy assessor.

After the Assessment Department mailed notices within only a few weeks of the informal appeal deadline last summer, Schulte said the county will make improvements ahead of 2021.