The appraisal disaster might just be the worst failure of county government ever. And that’s saying something.
In the long, often spotty and occasionally ugly history that is Jackson County administration, there have been some whopper instances of graft, mismanagement, general incompetence and even extensive corruption. Up until last month, I was sure the travesty at the Jackson County Jail would be hard to top among recent debacles.
Leave it to the assessor’s office to disabuse me of that optimism.
Like many other property owners in the county last month, we received notification that the appraised values of our properties—our home and Freighthouse building—were going up. Both at home, which is bad enough, but by nearly 50 percent on our building.
It’s hard to know where to begin to unpack the elements that have created such a disastrous public demonstration of indifference and incompetence among elected officials and county executives. But there’s plenty of blame to go around: From the appraiser’s office that signed off on these erratic, inequitable and unfair increases, to Frank White as county executive, who was supposed to have that office under control, to a county legislature that refuses to accept responsibility and has abandoned its oversight role.
I received a copy of the June 28 letter from Dan Tarwater, the legislature’s chairman, to Frank White, outlining the body’s collective disappointment with the assessment process. With all due respect to the chairman, harsh words are not going to be enough to resolve this mess nor indemnify this legislature from being aware of the debacle in the making.
I try to keep business details inside the business, but I’ll share a figure with you that I think you’ll find relevant to your interests, especially if you own property in Jackson County, Missouri.
Between 2014 and 2018, the building this magazine calls home saw its property tax bill from Jackson County tick up by 11 percent. Among the recipients of that additional contribution were the state’s pension fund for the blind, the board of disabled services, the mental health board, and Jackson County itself. I can say with complete confidence that not one dime of any additional payment to the county office over the years has returned even a penny’s worth of benefits from any of those organizations.
Given that we receive nominal police protection and certain city services, the roughly 12 percent that goes to Kansas City, Mo., can be considered the cost of doing business. I’ll also cut Metropolitan Community College and the Kansas City Public Library some slack, because they produce elements of educational attainment and higher quality of life that benefit us all.
More than a third of the overall payment, though, went down the rabbit hole of the Kansas City school district. Given where the district stands with academic achievement, that payment is on a moral plane roughly comparable to protection money.
The larger point is, while taxes were going up 12 percent in recent years, this taxpayer, for one, was seeing exactly bupkis in additional benefits or services. So you can imagine my unfettered delight in hearing from the assessor’s office with that updated valuation, such as it was, and a bill for what would be many thousands of dollars in additional taxes.
I’m not just a hacked-off taxpayer unfamiliar with the issues here. I’m the son of the last elected assessor of Jackson County, and I grew up and spent much of my career learning about assessment, appraisal and taxation. This has to be the biggest blunder in the history of Jackson County. As a lifetime resident and taxpayer of Jackson County, I believe Mr. White should be removed from office. There is a great deal of damage control to be immediately conducted and, honestly, he and his management team are smack dab in the way of resolution.
So I have two suggestions: Terminate Mr. White’s employment immediately as well as anyone else who is behind this debacle. Secondly, cancel every suggested increase, revert back to the values billed last year (regardless of logic) and try and salvage the situation and stave off a citizen revolt.
The fact is, many people hit with these increases can’t afford to live, work and own properties in Jackson County with these kinds of increases. And from the horror stories I’ve been hearing, I got off easy: Some people are seeing increases of 200 and 300 percent, or even more.
If we thought the business exodus to Johnson County was bad in the ‘80s, were on the verge of seeing history not only repeat, but by multiples. The way the county responds to this problem will determine the level of exodus and the degree of lawsuits that surely will follow.
Time for the Jackson County Legislature to take purposeful action and right the wrong I’m quite confident they were well aware of in its making.