In the first of two town hall events hosted at the Grain Valley Community Center, Missouri District 32 Representative Jeff Coleman addressed resident concerns on October 22nd regarding Jackson County tax assessments.
Approximately 25 residents attended the initial town hall, which focused heavily on County tax assessments and touched briefly on Coleman’s plans for the upcoming 2020 legislative session.
Coleman represents areas in north Blue Springs, most of Grain Valley and Oak Grove.
Coleman was appointed over the summer to a special committee charged with looking at concerns of homeowners across the state regarding the process of assessing property tax values and fairness of the process. Hearings were held in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Jefferson City. Coleman explained the committee has one meeting remaining to come up with recommendations to resolve issues property owners are facing.
An issue raised during the meeting was the seemingly haphazard way in which increases occurred and the burden placed on the property owner to appeal decisions.
Coleman referenced 74,311 property owners whose properties all increased by 14.9%.
“The assessor is required at a 15% increase or more to go out and do a physical inspection. So, when you put 74,311 folks at 14.9%, which is the maximum you can do without having to go out and do a physical assessment, it starts to make you wonder what’s involved. We’re trying to unpack all of this and understand what could have been done differently,” Coleman said.
“The onus is on the property owner to disprove the assessment. We have to come up with evidence to disprove the County’s assessment and not everyone has the wherewithal to do that. Especially in lower income areas, and that’s where a lot of those 14.9% increases were. How are these folks supposed to know the process.”
Coleman cites funding issues and incompetency as major reasons behind the issues faced in Jackson County.
“We are really behind the eight ball in reference to the funding we have for the County Assessment department and the tools the County needs, because the County Assessor doesn’t have the funding to buy the right tools. Because of that , there is zero data for them (the County) to show why they put their assessment where they have it,” Coleman said.
“Thanks to local reporting (referring to KCTV Channel 5 reporting) and Sunshine Law requests, we now have access to emails that show a real incompetency in what they did and how they got there.”
Reached for comment, Marshanna Smith, spokesperson for the Jackson County Executive’s Office, emphasized the County Assessor is bound by state laws and rules when setting values and funding cuts have impacted the department’s ability to fulfill the state-mandated reassessment process.
“The County is sympathetic to the concerns raised by residents during this year’s reassessment and we have worked very hard to address them, while maintaining an equitable and accurate process. For example, contrary to many media reports, more than 1,600 homeowners in the 64029 zip code will pay less in taxes this year than last year.
When setting values, the assessor is required by state laws and rules designed to ensure assessments are as uniform as possible. As a result, properties must be placed on the tax rolls at their true market value. Market value is the price the property would bring when offered for sale by a person who is willing but not obligated to sell it, and is bought by a person who is willing to purchase it but who is not forced to do so. Any deviation from this mandate would be a violation of state law. In addition, if any taxpayer believes their property’s value is inaccurate, they have multiple options. First, Jackson County offers all property owners an opportunity for an informal review by our Assessment Department, where the property owner can provide additional information that may not have been available to our staff at the time they first determined the property’s value. Second, a property owner can appeal their valuation to the Board of Equalization. Finally, if a property owner is still not satisfied, they can ask the State Tax Commission to hear their case,” Smith said.
“The County is hopeful that Rep. Coleman and colleagues in the state legislature will address residents’ concerns by passing meaningful reforms in Jefferson City. Such changes must include providing adequate funding to counties across the state so that assessors can properly fulfill the state-mandated reassessment process. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, the state has cut this funding in half and are now only providing a reimbursement of $3 per parcel to counties. We are also hopeful that the Missouri Legislature will not only protect the “circuit breaker” tax credit protections currently in place for senior citizens and persons with disabilities, but will also look at increasing and expanding this protection.”
Coleman emphasized that the likelihood of a solution coming before the end of the calendar year was slim, but that multiple legislators would likely be proposing bills in the 2020 session to address property tax assessment issues.
Coleman touched on a proposal he is considering that is similar in scope to California’s Proposition 13, which when passed in 1978 brought sweeping changes to the states property tax system. Primarily, Proposition 13 capped tax rates at one percent of full cash value at the time of acquisition, transferred responsibility for allocating property tax to the state, and replaced annual assessments with reassessment upon change of ownership.
Outside of property tax issues, Coleman is interested in focusing on disability and Medicaid issues as well as the foster care system in the coming session. In addition, Coleman stated that transportation must be a priority for the state.
“Someone’s going to have to stick their neck out and raise the tax two cents or something similar. I don’t think there’s any support for toll roads; I think it’s going to have to be a tax. I think you’re going to see the legislature push the issue out to voters,” Coleman said.
A year in to his tenure, Coleman reflected on the highs and lows of the job.
“The most frustrating thing so far is that I hate that every two years you have to re-up, because it becomes all about getting back into office and it shouldn’t be like that. That’s been the most frustrating thing to me. The most positive thing so far is that I got one bill and two amendments through in my first session and was elected Vice Chair of Economic Development. Those are nice accomplishments for a first year member, but I’m really most proud when I’m able to help folks with issues that affect their lives,” Coleman said.
“I had a single mom email me and her children had been covered by the PACE program for insurance. She sent the paperwork in to renew coverage but the Division of Family Services claimed they did not receive it, dropping her children’s coverage. I told her, ‘I can’t promise anything, as I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to call and see what I can come up with.’ I left a message with DFS and the mother called in the tears the next day letting me know that her coverage had been restored.”
“That means more to me than anything I’ve done in the legislature, because I was able to help somebody with something they were struggling with and unable to get through. Those are the kinds of things that I hope will happen more. I want people to call me. I want people to get involved.”
Representative Jeff Coleman can be reached at 573-751-1487 and firstname.lastname@example.org.