A view of the Kansas City skyline, taken from the World War I memorial.
A view of the Kansas City skyline, taken from the World War I memorial. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

For three weeks, staffers in the Jackson County assessment department have been on a tour. Their venues: packed rooms in public libraries and community centers. Their audience: homeowners with lots of questions about a possible Jackson County property tax increase. 

With notices of property value assessments expected any time, anxiety among residential property owners is rising. For at least a month, the Jackson County website has had a banner warning of hourlong wait times for anyone calling the assessment department.

At a March 27 meeting on Kansas City’s east side, dozens of residents, many of them seniors and people with disabilities, filled a meeting room. They spoke about property tax bills that had doubled in five years. Some speakers said they had delayed important repairs on their homes because of the rising cost of living.

One attendee was scared to disclose her home’s problems for fear it could be condemned.

After an hour and a half, the meeting ended with a backlog of nine people who never got the chance to ask their questions. 

Jackson County has warned that property assessments are increasing this year by an average of 30%. And although an increase in property value does not necessarily mean an increase in your property tax bill, many homeowners are reminded of the rocky assessment cycle in 2019, when 24,000 property owners saw their assessments double.

Property owners will begin receiving Jackson County assessment notices in mid-April, which will include an estimate of their 2023 property tax bill. They can then appeal their property’s valuation through July 11, before the property tax levy is finalized in September.

Gail McCann Beatty, the county’s director of assessment, spoke with The Beacon about why property assessments are increasing this year, what property owners can expect and what they can do if they believe they have been overassessed.

What can I do if I think my property assessment is too high?

Much of the property assessment process in Missouri is set by state statute, meaning that all property values must be assessed at market value.

If a property owner believes that their assessment is not accurate to the market value, Jackson County has an appeals process.

As always, McCann Beatty suggests providing evidence in an appeal for why the valuation is inaccurate.

In July 2022, she gave The Beacon some examples of what acceptable evidence might be: “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.’”

This year, McCann Beatty suggests reaching out to a real estate agent to ask for an opinion on a value notice. She said most real estate agents will do this for free, and some will be working directly with Jackson County for this purpose over the coming months.

“Just to find out what’s the value of your neighborhood and to determine whether or not we’re in the right place,” McCann Beatty said. “We don’t want to overassess anybody. We only want people to be paying their fair share. So if we have a value that’s too high, we’re gonna sit down and work with you to get it where it needs to be.”

She also pointed to statewide property tax relief programs for seniors or lower-income property owners: the homestead exemption and the circuit breaker program

Property owners who still believe their Jackson County assessment is inaccurate after the county reviews their appeal can file another appeal with the state tax commission.

How will my property assessment affect my property tax bill in December?

An increase in property value does not necessarily mean an increase in a property owner’s tax bill at the end of the year. 

This is because taxing jurisdictions, which include public school districts as well as the city, libraries and mental health services, are not allowed to increase their budgets in response to property value increases.

Once the county has calculated the total property value within a taxing jurisdiction’s boundaries, the taxing jurisdictions hold individual meetings to set their tax levies.

“As I suggested in all the meetings, people need to participate in the meetings with the taxing jurisdictions because they actually set the levy rate,” McCann Beatty said. “They are the ones that actually set the rate in which they pay taxes.”

The property valuation notices going out this month include a property tax bill estimate. McCann Beatty emphasized the final property tax bill may change as a result of the taxing jurisdictions’ decisions.

Why are Jackson County property taxes going up?

The dramatic 2019 spike in valuations was a result of the county updating out-of-date property values, McCann Beatty said. She said this year’s increase is because of market increases.

“There are parts of the county that we’re still trying to get to value. It’s not something that happens overnight because of the number of properties we have in the county,” she said. “But I would say the majority of what is driving us these values right now is simply an increase in value.” 

The county also assessed properties in 2021. McCann Beatty said assessors were more conservative with value increases amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The county was unable to visit properties in person, and interior inspections were limited.

Now that the housing market has recovered from the pandemic, though, the county has seen property value increases of roughly 14% or 15% per year, McCann Beatty said.

“COVID also taught corporations that people can work from home, and so we had lots of people move to the Midwest because the cost of living was more reasonable, which also helped to drive our prices up,” she said. “What typically we would see on the East Coast or West Coast, we saw in the Midwest during COVID.”

She said that the use of tax incentives in the Kansas City area also plays a role in Jackson County property tax increases.

When the City Council or a development agency such as the Economic Development Corp., Port Authority of Kansas City or RideKC Development Corp. issues a property tax break to a developer, this comes at the expense of other property owners.

“Any time there is a group of properties that is getting a tax incentive, they reduce the amount that’s being contributed,” McCann Beatty said. “And so that means the levy rate set by your taxing jurisdiction is going to be a little bit higher in order to compensate to cover what they need for their budget.”

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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....