KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- "How am I going to pay this?"
That's what Jerry Morris said he was thinking this summer when he opened his Jackson County property tax bill.
Morris' taxes for four Midtown properties had skyrocketed after the county decided his properties were worth far more than they were assessed.
The assessment on his home jumped from $66,000 to $210,000. An empty lot he owns, which was valued at $3,000 last year, was now worth more than $42,000 according to the county. A rental property assessed at $44,000 in 2018 was now worth $196,000.
"Outrageous," Morris said.
Unsure what to do, Morris asked two attorneys, Reginald Stockman and Andre Boyda, for help.
"As an attorney, I was appalled at the process," Stockman said. "To me any government process should be transparent and open. It was anything but."
For starters, both attorneys said there's no evidence that Jackson County followed Missouri law and conducted a physical inspection of the properties. Such an inspection is required if a county raises the assessed value more than 15%.
"We don't even know that they drove by," Boyda said. "It appeared they were just pulling comps."
In fact, Boyda said Jackson County staff appeared to admit as much to him,
"They told me, 'We don't have the resources or staff to do physical inspections,'" Boyda said.
If that's the case, then state law prevents Jackson County for raising assessed values more than 15%,
Boyda said the point of the law is to make sure taxpayers are treated fairly and have adequate notice that their taxes will be going up. But it's not easy arguing that point to the county.
Taxpayers are required to show at the basement of the county courthouse to fight their assessments. First they must wait in line to argue their case to a mediator. But Morris and his attorneys had no luck on that front. So they got kicked upstairs to the Board of Equalization meeting.
The board never admitted the county broke the law, but it agreed to lower the increased assessment to 15%.
Jackson County sent FOX4 a statement maintaining that it did comply with the law and conducted a visual inspection of every property.
But a county spokeswoman said that going forward all assessments will follow new rules adopted by the County Legislature designed to make
sure property owners are better aware when their property is being reassessed.