A photo of a tiny model house on a fan of cash, with tax paperwork underneath.
Once Jackson County collects data from every land parcel in the county, they will use a computer program to generate accurate property values based on the market. (File photo)

Owners of all of Jackson County’s 301,000 residential and commercial properties are expected to receive a visit from property tax assessors in 2022.

Data collectors from the tax assessment office, clad in bright vests, will be measuring property lines and asking homeowners questions about the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and whether the basement or attic have been finished.

“People haven’t seen the county doing this, and so they are skeptical. They may have questions, and we understand that,” said Gail McCann Beatty, the director of assessment in Jackson County. “It is not our goal to overassess anybody.”

The on-site visits follow rocky assessment cycles in 2019 and, to a lesser extent, 2021. In 2019, nearly 24,000 property owners saw their assessments double or more, with low-income neighborhoods hit especially hard. The assessment department relied mostly on computer-assisted mass valuations of properties in that cycle, rather than on-the-ground inspections. 

As Jackson County revamps its assessment process, it hopes to update every property to have the most accurate data on a new database. After this year, it plans to conduct its property assessments on a four-year cycle, rather than every two years, with data collectors visiting one quarter of the county’s properties, or 75,000 parcels, each year.

Data collectors are looking for basic information about your house

In order to complete hundreds of thousands of parcel reviews, Jackson County has contracted with Tyler Technologies, which is providing data collection services.

All data collectors will wear brightly colored vests, carry county identification and drive marked cars. Citizens who are concerned about whether a data collector is authorized to be in their neighborhood should call the county assessment office, said McCann Beatty, who became the county’s assessor in July 2018. 

Many homeowners may be concerned about whether minor home renovations will increase their property value, but McCann Beatty said data collectors are only interested in basic information.

“Let’s say you have a four-bedroom house, and you decided to take out a wall and it’s now a three-bedroom house,” McCann Beatty said. “Maybe your basement flooded, and we have it as finished, and it’s not anymore.”

The data collectors will also take measurements of the property to make sure they match the measurements on file.

“People think that if they see someone and they’re out measuring their house, that they’re automatically getting this big increase in their tax bill. That’s not our objective at all,” McCann Beatty said. “We just want to make sure that we have our characteristics and square footage of all of our properties correct going into our new system.”

The county uses a computer program to calculate property values

Data collectors enter property information into a system called Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA), which serves as both a database and a calculator. McCann Beatty said all CAMA systems work in essentially the same way so that property values match market trends. 

When setting up the system, McCann Beatty said that her staff made sure the county was following international standards. For example, the standard deviation of property values should be within a certain range. If it isn’t, staff will continue to calibrate the system.

Once the assessment department is finished calculating property values for all 301,000 properties, home and business owners should receive a notice in May 2023 containing their property’s new market value. 

These notices will also contain a preliminary estimate for the 2023 tax bill, but taxing jurisdictions will not finalize the property tax levy until September 2023. Official tax bills are expected to be mailed in November 2023, with taxes due at the end of the calendar year.

Property owners who think their assessed value is inaccurate can appeal from May 1 through July 11, 2023. 

“When you file, you have to provide why you think our value is incorrect,” McCann Beatty said. “So you have to provide comparable sales, or let’s say you just refinanced and had an appraisal, you can send that to us. Or you could say, ‘I just bought the property and I paid $20,000 less than that.’”

Given the sheer quantity of properties that Jackson County is valuing in any given year, she said, the appeal process is an important part of correcting any possible errors.

Increased property value does not always mean a bigger tax bill

Though Jackson County government manages property assessment and property tax collection, most of what it collects — upwards of 90%, in some years — is distributed to other taxing jurisdictions. And multiple jurisdictions have a role in determining how much tax money is collected. 

Once county tax assessors set the property values, they send those values to the various taxing jurisdictions. These include cities, public school districts, library systems and junior colleges.

When a taxing jurisdiction knows the total value of properties within its boundaries, it then calculates the tax rate that will fund its budget. Jurisdictions cannot increase their budgets to compensate for an expected rise in property values.

This means that if a neighborhood’s property values go up, overall tax rates would likely decrease because the jurisdictions are still collecting the same total amount of money.

“This is why it’s important to get everybody to market value,” McCann Beatty said. “If I’m (below) market value, but my neighbor’s at market value, then my neighbor is covering part of my tax bill.”

She said property assessment is essentially a matter of fairness. 

“I know assessment is painful for the property owners,” she said. “I know they have great fears about it. But it is the only way for it to be truly fair and equitable.”

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Josh Merchant is The Kansas City Beacon's local government reporter. After graduating from Seattle University, Josh attended Columbia Journalism School, earning a master’s degree in investigative journalism....