January 12, 2021
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (January 12, 2021) Jackson County needs to improve controls and procedures in its assessment department to ensure effective and efficient future reassessments, an audit released today by State Auditor Nicole Galloway says. Those were some of the recommendations in the final report of the Auditor’s independent review of Jackson County government finances. The county received a rating of “fair.”
“After the reassessments in 2019, the great majority of property owners in Jackson County saw their assessed valuations go up — in some cases, significantly. We heard from many concerned taxpayers who were understandably alarmed by the sudden increase,” Auditor Galloway said. “Our review of the assessment department found many problems that we’ve recommended be addressed to ensure better oversight of this process in the future. To their credit, the responses by the county legislature and county executive to this report indicate they will move forward with the recommendations.”
As a result of the 2019 biennial reassessment, Jackson County’s total assessed valuation increased by almost 20 percent. A report on property tax rates by the State Auditor’s Office found this increase was over 70 percent more than any other county in the state; it also was significantly higher than the typical biennial reassessment increase.
Several lawsuits were filed against the county over the increases, and many property owners appealed the increased valuation. While several of the appeals from 2019 are still pending, various appeals resulted in the assessed valuation of approximately 13,000 parcels being decreased approximately $246 million.
Last October, the County Legislature authorized a contract with a different reassessment consultant. The audit recommended that county officials closely monitor the biennial reassessment process both in the immediate and future years.
The audit found that several contracts related to the previous reassessment consultant were allowed to expire before being renewed, and that the county paid invoices to the consultant for services during the lapse period. Invoices submitted did not provide supporting documentation of the details of the services provided and expenses billed to the county. The audit also noted that the director of assessment did not file, or timely file, required annual reports regarding assessed valuations.
The audit also highlighted concerns about leases for two county-owned properties: the Old City Hall and the regional animal shelter, both in Independence. The Old City Hall was leased for 50 years at $1 a year with the provision that the tenant would restore and maintain the property. A site visit showed the property to be vacant and in poor condition. The county was unable to provide a cost-benefit analysis documenting how owning and funding operations at the animal shelter was reasonable and in the best interests of the county, when the majority of the animals sheltered are for the City of Independence.
The complete audit report is available here.
This is the last audit report that will be issued as part of the performance audit of Jackson County, which was done by the State Auditor’s Office at the request of the Jackson County Legislature and recommendation of the County Executive. Four other reports have been previously issued including: Jackson County Community Backed Anti-Crime Tax (COMBAT) Fund, Jackson County No-Bid Contracts and Other Expenditures, Jackson County Budgets and Transfers, and Jackson County Payroll and Personnel Issues.