By Jill Draper
Home values are soaring in many neighborhoods, so it’s no surprise that property tax assessments are up as well. Jackson County Administrator Troy Schulte warned more than a year ago (before COVID, lumber shortages and a seller’s market coalesced to limit the supply of homes for sale) that eight neighborhoods should expect significantly higher assessed valuations in 2021. Many of the areas he named were in south Kansas City, including Waldo, Martin City and 49/63 along Troost Avenue. Now homeowners in these places are reporting an increase in property tax values of 10-15%, following equally big or bigger jumps in 2019.
That’s nearly double this year’s average residential tax increase of 7%, according to Gail McCann Beatty, Jackson County director of assessment.
Jon Pratt, a retiree who lives in a modest 1930s Tudor Revival home in Waldo, wants a break for seniors age 65 and older. The break could come in the form of a tax deferral until the property is sold or transferred, or an abatement after taxes are paid on the first $100,000, or an expansion of the state’s current “circuit breaker” program which offers a property tax credit for older individuals/couples earning no more than $30,000/34,000 per year.
“This is not real technical stuff that I’m trying to do,” he said. “There are all sorts of suggestions. They’ve got geniuses down in Jefferson City—they can figure out something.”
Barbara Washington, a Missouri senator from Jackson County, sponsored a House bill to get more property tax relief for seniors in 2018 when she was a state representative. The bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee, but went nowhere. When asked if she plans to introduce similar legislation when the Senate reconvenes, she replied “Not at this time.”
Sen. Greg Razer, also from Kansas City, supported several property tax reforms while he was in the House, but now says he seldom sees these types of bills until they’re close to a full Senate vote.
After sending letters to Razer and State Rep. Patty Lewis as well as the president of AARP, Pratt thinks the best way to get people “stirred up so maybe the politicians will listen” is a grassroots approach through the dozens of homeowner associations in the city, especially in areas like Waldo and south KC where as many as one-third of property owners are in their 60s or older.
He posted his thoughts on Nextdoor, a social media platform for neighborhoods, and waited to receive a slew of critical comments.
“I thought I’d get a bunch of them, like ‘cranky old man, go away,’” he said. But instead, the opposite happened. He heard back from many in the community who supported his idea.
“I never thought that my home would be worth this much,” responded one person. “It’s starting to get a little scary.” Another asked, “When do I get a break from an assessment? I keep getting hammered.” Still another labeled the rising property tax situation as “kind of scandalous.”
Pratt worries that skyrocketing home prices in Johnson County will push buyers into parts of KCMO like Waldo, inflating home values higher than they should be. “Where are senior citizens to go for ‘affordable housing’ if taxed out of house and home by an influx of homebuyers into a limited Kansas City market?” he wrote in a recent letter to The Telegraph, noting the problem is compounded by “out of control water bills” and too much tax money given away to developers through tax increment financing.
“It’s a really crazy market,” agreed Beatty, who said all assessment notices in Jackson County have been mailed and homeowners have until July 12 to request a formal appeal. “Right now we’re seeing people actually paying more than their homes appraise for.”
Beatty said she understands Pratt’s concern. “It becomes a challenge for seniors. Hopefully the legislature will look at the different options out there and what will work.”
A parcel by parcel review is underway in Jackson County, she added. Staff are visiting each house to ask about the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, measure the outside walls and take a front-facing photo. Lee’s Summit is completed; Grain Valley and Blue Springs are next. “Our goal is to make sure everyone is treated fairly.”
But what’s fair for older homeowners on a fixed income still needs to be considered, said Pratt. He purchased his home in 1978 and notes that he has paid property taxes for over three generations of K-12 school children. He and other neighbors were hit with a 23% tax increase in 2019, and a 15% increase this year.
“I’m not saying a person will lose their home—that’s pretty extreme—but it does cut into a person’s income and is especially hard for seniors 65 and older,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right. We’ve done enough. Let us go gently into old age and croak.”
Pratt has already gained some interest for his grassroots campaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(For further information on property tax relief visit https://dor.mo.gov/personal/ptc/.)