JANUARY 5, 2010 -- With the New Year now officially rung in, Jackson County Assessment Department Director Curtis Koons is assuming a new leadership role with a statewide organization that closely monitors proposed legislation in Jefferson City -- legislation that could alter how values are assessed in Missouri.
Koons is now President Elect of the Missouri State Assessors Association, and he'll become MSAA President January 1, 2011. The President Elect serves in the second highest position in the MSAA hierarchy with Vice President, the post Koons held in 2009, being third. Every assessor in Missouri is an MSAA member. The association meets regularly with the Missouri State Tax Commission, the agency charged with overseeing property assessment.
"Assessors have to undergo at least 20 hours of continuing education each year. We [MSAA] organize educational sessions for that purpose," Koons explained. "We keep assessors up to date, too, regarding any policy changes from the Tax Commission or any legislation the State adopts that impacts the assessment process."
But the MSAA, he emphasized, doesn't passively watch while the State Legislature considers bills about assessment. The association continually must "educate the legislators" due to constant turnover at the state capital every election cycle.
"Every year we promote legislation to help make the process fairer to the taxpayers and to provide them greater clarity as to how the whole process works," said Koons.
When new legislators assume office in Jefferson City every other January, at least one -- almost routinely -- will propose freezing assessments or call for doing reassessments over a five-year cycle, rather than each odd-numbered year (2007, 2009, 2011, etc.). Neither is a good option, according to Koons, who was appointed Jackson County Assessment Director in the fall of 2007 after serving as the elected Cass County Assessor for 10 years.
"Imagine if we froze assessments after 2005 or 2007, before the housing market bubble burst," Koons said. "How fair would it be to still be taxing people based on their assessed property values back then? The same would be true if we only did reassessments every five years. That would not be current. Assessments have to be accurate, a reflection of the current market, if we are going to be fair to the taxpayers. The assessment process has to be equitable."
Providing homeowners an accurate assessment is just one aspect of Koons' goal to improve his department's customer service. He sought to simplify the assessment appeals process last year.
"If we could not satisfactorily settle an appeal on the phone, we had our appraisers go back to the homeowners," Koons said. "People with informal appeals did not always have to come down to the Courthouse to us. We'd go to them."
Through the MSAA, Koons will continue to push the State to authorize policies that create greater openness regarding property value assessment and tax collection. He advocated including "estimated tax bills" with assessment statements mailed in the spring to give citizens more time to budget for their actual bill sent late in the fall. Also, he called for developing a "Where do my tax dollars go?" section for this Web site to educate citizens about the fact that for every tax dollar Jackson County collects just seven cents goes toward the County's General Fund.
"We formed an Assessment Review Commission to review the County's entire assessment process top to bottom," said County Executive Mike Sanders. "Curtis and his staff have read the commission's report and ran with it to make our process in Jackson County fairer. That is the primary objective of our Assessment Department, providing as accurate an assessment as possible. Curtis has raised the bar for assessment in Jackson County, getting his staff more training and looking to better utilize technology, such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems.)"
Koons can trace his interest in assessment way back. "At the age of eight, I dreamed of being a county assessor," he said, stone-faced. Then he smiled and described how he, as a property owner and longtime real estate businessman, grew increasingly curious about the reassessment process.
"I just started wondering how property values are figured," he said. "The more I learned the more involved I wanted to be. That all led to me running for office in Cass County back in 1996."
As MSAA President-Elect, Koons will be responsible for organizing the association's annual conference later this year. He'll also remain focused on any legislation that might be introduced when the Missouri General Assembly reconvenes later this month.
"I hope my being in this position with the MSAA helps put Jackson County in a better position to influence assessment issues at the State level," Koons said. "We want to have a say about these issues that affect our County government and the citizens of Jackson County."