Leaders of the Warren County R-III School District say they are becoming increasingly worried that the Warren County Assessor’s Office could cause schools and other public services to miss out …
Leaders of the Warren County R-III School District say they are becoming increasingly worried that the Warren County Assessor’s Office could cause schools and other public services to miss out on millions of dollars in future tax revenue.
The assessor’s office is the department that identifies the value of real estate and personal property, which is then used to determine how much property tax is owed for public services such as schools, fire protection, and ambulance service.
Every two years, the assessor’s office is supposed to perform mass reassessments to adjust for inflation and ensure all properties are still being taxed at a fair market value. But in 2021, it came to light that the office under now-disgraced former Assessor Wendy Nordwald had not performed this task in almost a decade.
Now, two years later, school officials are concerned that problem still isn’t being adequately addressed. Because tax revenue is based on property values, failure to reassess property value increases over time can lead to significant lost revenue for public services.
R-III Superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith estimates that the lack of reassessments over the last 12 years have shorted the Warren County School District $6.8 million in missed revenue.
Over that same period of time, inflation has increased various costs by up to 27 percent, according to Klinginsmith. He said the district’s revenue hasn’t come close to keeping up with that increasing cost, while school districts in neighboring counties have seen significant revenue gains.
Other public services, such as fire protection districts, have expressed similar concerns of lost revenue since the problem came to light. Multiple public entities have gone to taxpayers in recent years to ask for tax increases to make up for operating fund shortfalls.
The current concern, Klinginsmith explained, is that 2023 is the next reassessment year and there’s been no official word on whether properties will be fully reassessed to correctly reflect their fair market value. If reassessments fall short again, the school district could continue to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue gains every year.
Klinginsmith said piecemeal bits of information that school officials have received from current County Assessor Katie Smith have made them worried the reassessment process isn’t being fully carried out. Smith has not provided more substantial information about how reassessments are being done, and has not met with school administrators or the R-III School Board since 2021, despite requests to do both, Klinginsmith said.
Smith also declined to speak on the record for this article when asked directly. She said she will publicize more information prior to assessment notices being mailed to property owners later this year.
“That’s part of my concern: Why won’t the assessor be forthright and talk about the process?” Klinginsmith noted. “We’re hopeful that assessments are done accurately, but we’ve got nothing official on that.”
One of the biggest concerns for the school district is that continual revenue shortfalls will make Warrenton schools less and less able to retain high quality teachers, as they leave for other districts that can offer better pay. Even Montgomery County schools are passing Warrenton in starting pay, Klinginsmith said.
“When we’re trying to retain teachers, retain paraprofessionals, find bus drivers, and maintain our current programming that we offer for all our students, we need revenue to do that,” he commented.
R-III School Board President Ginger Schenck said board members are going to be paying close attention to reassessments, and will consider their options for holding the assessor’s office accountable if reassessments fall short.
“We can no longer continue to function well or improve without proper reassessment,” Schenck said. “With reassessments scheduled for every two years, we cannot delay again. Waiting until the next round is not an option. At this point we will never ‘catch up.’ Our children deserve better.”
Schenck and other district leaders have not yet clarified what action they might take if their concerns about reassessments are eventually validated.
Board Vice President Franci Schwartz said her chief concern is the long-term impact this issue could have on education.
“My concern is that it’s going to take years to get to the correct numbers as they should be. And I have no faith that process is being started (this year),” Schwartz told The Record. “I don’t know what’s happening, and we’ve been told different things.”
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