County Responds To Districts' Suit

Brian Johnson of the Jackson County Assessment Department addresses reporters during a news conference in response to 11 school districts' suit. He's joined by dozens of County employees whom he described as being "trusted, dedicated employees who do exemplary work."

AUGUST 7, 2009 -- Eleven school districts have filed a law suit against Jackson County, alleging the County improperly conducted the 2009 reassessment of property values in Jackson County. Brian Johnson of the Jackson County Assessment Department read this statement during a August 6 news conference in response to the districts' legal action:

"Given the very well-documented downturn in both the local and national housing markets, the fact that property assessments are down should not come as a surprise. In the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, declining home values were fully anticipated by everyone in our community. Furthermore, the County Assessment Department met with the school districts at least four separate times since early 2008 to inform them about the direction the local housing market had taken.

"These are difficult financial times for everyone in our community, governments as well as taxpayers. We understand that lower assessments mean less tax revenue for the districts, but the County has a legal and moral obligation to the taxpayers to assess property values based upon the market and not upon the alleged needs of the districts and local governments. Furthermore, it must be understood that lower property assessments also means lower tax revenue for the County’s operating budget as well. But, once again, the County cannot assess property values based upon its or other local governments' needs, but must base assessments upon the actual market.

"During tough economic times our citizens are forced to make sacrifices and tough choices everyday to balance their budgets. Similarly, it should also be the responsibility of local governments to look at tightening their belts and living within their means as well. Given the reality of this economic downturn, it is incumbent upon local governments to look first at reducing their own expenses before turning to the taxpayers for more taxes.

"It should be noted that the County used the very same assessment process in 2005 and 2007 as it did in 2009. However, when this process yielded higher assessments resulting in more tax revenue for the districts, they did not complain that the process was flawed. It was only after the 2009 assessments resulted in lower tax revenues that the districts began to allege concern with the County’s assessment process.

"We are very confident that the assessment process that was performed was fair, accurate and one of the most transparent in the County’s history. The Missouri State Tax Commission in March of 2008 both reviewed and approved the process that the districts are now challenging. Furthermore, in an unprecedented effort to keep the process fair and above reproach, the Assessment Department hired an independent consultant from the Missouri State Real Estate Appraisers Commission to help oversee the entire assessment process.

"Although we are certain that many of the issues the districts are now raising could have been resolved without litigation, the Assessment Department is confident that the reduction in taxpayer’s assessments will be upheld by the court."

Brian K. Johnson
Jackson County Assessment Department



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