It's the first time in more than a decade that assessments increased in Warren County.
Warren County land values and residential improvements are both being increased by 8 percent this year.
The increase was ordered by the commissioners of the Missouri State Tax Commission in a “memorandum of understanding” issued to the county on May 24.
“The 2022 Residential Sales Study results were not within the acceptable parameters,” the memorandum states.
It was signed by Warren County Assessor Kathryn Smith on May 24, and the three state tax commissioners on May 26.
According to Amy Westermann, chief counsel for the state tax commission, Warren County is out of compliance with the International Association of Assessing Officers standard for reporting fair market value.
Those standards require values to fall within 90 to 110 percent of fair market value. Warren County had a sales ratio of 65.68 percent, Westermann said.
Warren County was not the only county to receive a “memorandum of understanding” from the state tax commission. Westermann said a total of 53 counties across the state fell below the required 90 percent.
Twenty-nine of those, including Warren County, fell below 85 percent. Those 29 counties received a memorandum of understanding.
“Anytime our staff’s studies show that an assessor’s office is out of compliance, it is STC practice to work with an assessor to draft a memorandum of understanding to guide the assessor’s office back to compliance and assessing property at fair market value,” Westermann said in an email.
Smith said she wasn’t happy about the 8 percent increase.
“It’s not the way I wanted things, but the state made me do it,” she said.
Warren County residents also aren’t happy about the large increase.
“My first reaction was a mix of worry and confusion,” Warren County resident Christina Saenz said. “Eight percent is a high markup when you consider all other utilities and commodities have increase, and for most people their wages remain the same.”
Smith said values are so low because the previous assessor, Wendy (Nordwald) Kozma, “didn’t do her job.
Kozma, who resigned in 2020 to take a position in Florida, later pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges of stealing, stemming from an investigation into alleged embezzlement from the Missouri State Assessors Association. Kozma is currently on probation after having agreed to pay restitution in lieu of a 10-year prison sentence. She faces a Sept. 15 hearing to have that probation revoked.
Smith said Warren County assessments haven’t been increased for 10 to 12 years.
“I’m trying to fix what she didn’t do,” Smith said. “I say we’re about 30 percent behind because she never did her job. And I’m just trying to catch up. I can’t do that all in one year. That would not be good for the taxpayers.”
Smith said to catch up, the increase would have to be between 30 and 40 percent.
“So that’s why we only did 8 percent.”
Any Warren County resident who wishes to appeal the assessment is able to do so, Smith said.
Saenz, the Warren County resident, said she’s worried about how low-income families will handle the increase.
“The financial burden will mostly impact the lower income households that are struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “Most people don’t pay attention to their assessments until they see a large increase at the end of the year, but by then it is already too late to file an appeal. In this case, they’ve given people less than a month.”
But the increased assessments were good news for local taxing bodies.
Dr. Gregg Klinginsmith, superintendent of the Warren County R-III school district, said he was glad the state tax commission stepped in.
“If assessments are done properly, we would be able to lower our tax rate considerably,” he said. “But right now, just 8 percent on residential only, you know that’s not going to move the needle enough for us to lower our tax rate.”
He said the rate could drop slightly, but the district has to wait for the official numbers to know what exactly it will be.
Klinginsmith said the Warren County school district has lost more than $6 million because of the lack of assessments.
“You can’t retroactively regain that revenue,” he said. “So we’ll never get that back and there’s always a percentage off the year before, and so it’s just become exponential on how much we keep losing.”
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at firstname.lastname@example.org