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Zimmerman takes questions at town hall meeting addressing rising property values

"It's called artificial intelligence," yells resident Doug Brunkhorst, who interrupts St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman during a town hall meeting addressing rising property values on Thursday, June 20, 2019, at the Pavilion at Lemay. Brunkhorst, was one of of many in the packed room, to question, criticize and disagree with how homes are assessed. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

CLAYTON — A member of the St. Louis County board that hears property value appeals has quit, telling County Executive Sam Page in a letter that the workload is too high for the three-member board tasked with hearing every property assessment appeal in just two months.

That board heard 24,153 appeals in the last assessment period two years ago, when the median single-family home value increased 7% across the county.

But conditions are ripe for many more appeals this year, as property values increased countywide, in some cases dramatically. The median increase was 15%, and several areas of the county spiked even higher. The increases ranged from 9% in the Normandy School District to 32% in Hancock Place.

There is much more attention being paid to the issue this year, with County Council members and Assessor Jake Zimmerman hosting packed town hall meetings in different neighborhoods.

Zimmerman has told taxpayers at those meetings that his staff’s system of appraising home values based on the sale prices of comparable homes was more accurate than it’s ever been, but still might not be perfect. And he has encouraged anyone who thinks their home was valued too high to appeal their case to the Board of Equalization.

Board member Keith Kramer wrote to Page that he “agreed to serve on the Board as I wanted to serve my community. I thought I could contribute to improving the real estate assessment process in St. Louis County. I have found resistance to change and that change is not likely to occur.”

The position is not staying vacant. Page immediately appointed Thomas P. Craddock, whom Kramer had replaced in early 2018, and the County Council approved the appointment on Tuesday. Craddock had served several years on the board. Page “knows the importance of the board being fully filled as thousands of appeals come in this summer,” spokesman Doug Moore said in a text.

Appeal forms are due to the Board of Equalization by July 8. The board is bound by statute to begin its hearings on the first Monday in July and complete its work by the fourth Saturday in August.

Kramer, 69, who owns an appraisal business in Clayton, told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that the assessor’s computer-aided mass appraisal system created great numbers of values that taxpayers did not feel were accurate, creating a mountain of work for people handling the appeals.

He said he predicted the board will work 10-hour days, six days per week, potentially ruling on 500 to 600 cases per day. And the board still might not finish the appeals by the end of August, he said. He said he didn’t have time for it.

He said the state law requiring the eight-week time frame for appeals was designed for much smaller counties, not for a county of 1 million.

And he said that law should be changed to be more fair to both property owners and the equalization board members in St. Louis County, either pushing back the August deadline, expanding the board membership to divide up cases, or something more radical.

“The system really isn’t working, and something has to be done to change it,” he said.

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