Staffing shortage means thousands can’t appeal Clay County property values

CLAY COUNTY, Mo. – About this time next month, 70,000 people in Clay County are going to get a letter about personal property values.

But if something doesn’t change quickly in the County Clerk’s Office, there will be nothing anyone can do about it if you don't agree with those numbers.

The letters will go out at the start of April. Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart said values are going up; in some cases, homes will increase up to 20 percent and businesses up to 50 percent.

“People are demanding houses and there's no supply," she said. "There are bidding wars. It's been all over Clay County, people trying to find houses to live in. Everybody that lives here. You have a car. It's going to affect it. You have a house. It's going to affect it. You have a business. It's going to be affected.”

Historically, the county clerk’s office helps when someone disagrees with the assessor’s evaluation of his or her property.

“We handle the scheduling, the record keeping for the official appeal hearings,"  said.

But based on cuts to her staff, she said the county won’t be able to do what it’s legally supposed to do. Thompson said she has been warning about this for months.

“We've actually been sounding this alarm since July of last year,” Thompson said.

Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart

If you get a letter and you disagree with your new property value, you have the right to go through an appeals process of sorts.

You call the assessor’s office and set up an informal hearing and they might consider a new number. If you still disagree, you file with the Board of Equalization. The clerk’s office serves as a go-between, between the assessor and the board.

“If you look at the statutes carefully, it says the clerk shall do (the work for) the Board of Equalization. Period. End of discussion.” Thompson said, “Commissioner Owen and Commissioner Ridgeway have been very well aware, and our emails and our verbal warnings to them about this have gone ignored.”

The commission cut Thompson’s budget after she voted against increasing their salaries. They’ve since given back her deputy chief of staff and a part-time employee.

But that doesn’t fully replace what they took away, and it doesn’t cover the board's workload.

Plus, law states the work must be done by the clerk’s office to avoid conflict of interest. Employees can’t be shared, despite an email from Commissioner Luann Ridgeway, who suggested, “we can find a way to accommodate, as all with clerk, assessor, commission and BOE have within their ability to work professionally and collaboratively.”

She also said, “expanding the budget is not an option.”

“Luann stood right there in that corner and said to me, ‘I control the purse strings.’ It's a direct quote,” Rinehart said.

Clay County Clerk Megan Thompson

“We're already receiving phone calls," Thompson said. "People are wanting to start submitting documents, getting us their backup and preparing for this. That happens in July, and I don't have the staff. We are not ready.”

What happens if the clerk’s office doesn’t get that Board of Equalization staffer?

“I don't know. We've never been in that situation," Rinehart said. "It all can be fixed with a few dollars. I'm terrified. It's like what's going to happen?”

Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte put the staffing issue on the agenda last week for Monday’s commission meeting.

“They wanted to talk about the BOE clerk," Rinehart said. "Jerry wanted to do that and categorically shut down. You know, that's the game we play, and it's a horrible game.”

The item was struck from the agenda, and Ridgeway objected to its discussion.

“You're hurting the people of Clay County," Rinehart said. "It's to the detriment of Clay County, and this is truly something that can be avoided.” S

he said if nothing changes, she’s going to do something she’s never done in her 22 years in this role -- she’ll send letters out to warn the tax entities: “school districts, libraries, road districts, fire districts.”

Clay County Commissioners, from left, Gene Owen, Jerry Nolte and Luann Ridgeway

“I have sat here and watched Commissioner Ridgeway and Commissioner Owen give themselves giant pay raises, and I've sat here and watched them paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to attorneys to fight this audit," Thompson said. "I've watched this, and all while this is going to happen and expect the people of Clay County to foot the bill by raising their taxes. They're also going to be taking away those citizens' ability to have a say in this. They're not going to be able to have the resources to appeal their taxes on their homes.”

She continued: “We sit here in the clerk's office and process purchase orders and we see the hundreds of thousands of dollars of all different kinds going through and just being processed out for all these other departments and some that are more than they've ever been in any other years. All we're asking is to reinstate the funds that were cut from the clerk's office because there are statutory guidelines that we have to abide by. I made a promise to the people of Clay County.”

If you want to contact the Clay County commissioners and share your thoughts, their contact information is below:

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