According to preliminary results released today by Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, up to 200,000 homeowners in Jackson County were the victims of a flawed and inadequate assessment process that failed to comply with state law. The State Tax Commission has reviewed the findings of fact presented to county officials by the Auditor and agrees with the Auditor’s summary of the serious problems with the Jackson County 2023 assessment described in the initial report. Fitzpatrick says he believes the failure of the Jackson County Assessment Department to abide by the law should invalidate the increases in assessed valuation over 15 percent.
The audit of the Jackson County Assessment Department is ongoing, but Fitzpatrick said his office has determined the department failed to provide property owners with adequate notification of their rights regarding physical inspections, and the notification that was given was inaccurate and often untimely. None of the letters sent to property owners included information that a physical inspection was required by statute or explained the owner’s rights relating to the physical inspection beyond a statement regarding the right to an interior inspection. As a result, Jackson County property owners may not have known they were entitled to an exterior inspection and to request an interior inspection, and were denied the benefit of these physical inspections before their timeline for appeal expired.
“We’re still in the initial stages of our audit but it has already become abundantly clear that the Jackson County Assessor’s Office violated the law by providing untimely and legally deficient notification during the assessment process,” said Fitzpatrick. “I urge the Jackson County Legislature to take our concerns into consideration and explore all possible remedies for the thousands of innocent homeowners wronged by an invalid process. I would also tell Jackson County residents who saw their home values increase by more than 15 percent that if I were in their shoes, and felt my assessment was unfair, I would pay my taxes under protest and plan to pursue remedies available to me by law based on my individual circumstances in the event the County does not remedy the flawed assessments.”
Fitzpatrick said the Jackson County Legislature, County Executive, and Assessor should determine what remedies are available, such as limiting 2023 assessed valuation increases to 15 percent, using prior year assessed valuations, or allowing additional appeals and/or tax protests; then notify taxpayers of these remedies, and allow adequate time for the taxpayers to pursue such remedies.
During the biennial reassessment process for 2023, approximately 200,000 residential properties had an assessed valuation increase of more than 15 percent, which required a physical inspection per state law and triggered the right of the property owners to request an interior inspection.
The Jackson County Assessment Department indicated they initially prepared approximately 50,000 notification letters from April to June of 2023. These letters included the percentage increase of market value, an inaccurate statement on the property owner’s rights to request an interior inspection, and a link to dispute the assessed valuation. The department did not send these letters to all 200,000 applicable taxpayers during that timeframe because department officials felt it would have placed an excessive demand on department personnel and resources.
The department also used a mailing service contractor to send a more generalized letter to all taxpayers regardless of the amount of their assessment. The letters were undated and included similar information contained in the first but did not include the percentage increase in assessed value, which caused taxpayers to have to calculate the change to determine if they could request an interior inspection, and incorrectly characterized the right to request an inspection. If many of the letters were sent on or near June 15 as the Jackson County Assessment Department claims, homeowners who took the allowed 30 days to request and receive an interior inspection would not have been able to use that information to consider an appeal with the Board of Equalization by the July 10 deadline that was stated in the letter.
Data provided by the Jackson County Assessment Department shows only 760 letters were sent prior to an external inspection being performed. While this is allowable under state law, statute also requires that a requested interior inspection be done at the same time as an exterior inspection. This would necessitate a new exterior inspection be performed in conjunction with an interior inspection requested by the homeowner. However, officials from Tyler Technologies, which performed a portion of the interior inspections, indicated they were not contractually required to, and did not, perform exterior inspections when conducting interior inspections.
The initial results are part of an ongoing audit of the Jackson County Assessment Department that began on September 25. Fitzpatrick said his office will continue its thorough review of the assessment process with the intent of releasing a final report in 2024.
“The people of Jackson County have every right to be outraged by the failure of the assessment department to accurately and timely notify homeowners of their rights. As a result of their abdication of duty, an immense and unwarranted burden has been placed on the citizens they were entrusted to serve,” said Fitzpatrick. “We will continue to look at every aspect of the assessment process, including whether the physical inspections that were done complied with state law, with the goal of giving taxpayers the complete picture of what happened and what needs to change so that it doesn’t happen again.”
The preliminary results are available here.