By Gloria Lloyd
An Affton resident is suing the Affton Fire Protection District, alleging that it is unconstitutional that he has to pay taxes to the fire district while residents of the area annexed into Crestwood do not.
Heege Road resident David Schmoll is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit the city of Crestwood filed in Cole County Circuit Court last year alleging that the state law that allowed the city to annex part of Affton in return for paying those residents’ taxes to the Affton Fire Protection District is unconstitutional.
“No adequate justification or rational basis exists for the district to tax Schmoll’s residential real property differently than residential real property in the annexed area,” Schmoll’s attorneys allege in the lawsuit, which was filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court March 14.
The fire district was served with the lawsuit last week.
Crestwood is funding Schmoll’s legal fees for the lawsuit against his fire district as part of the broader legal fight against a state law that requires the city to pay the taxes to the Affton fire district that residents of the annexed area of Crestwood would otherwise have paid themselves, City Administrator Kris Simpson said.
The city is seeking to strike down that law entirely, since it requires the city to pay around $500,000 to Affton annually, an amount that increases as taxes in Affton increase.
The city got Schmoll involved in the lawsuit because he can raise claims that the city cannot raise as a government entity, according to a statement from the city attorneys.
“As was the case in the Cole County lawsuit against the Affton Fire Protection District, since Mr. Schmoll’s claims are intertwined with the city’s, and his lawsuit will benefit the city, the city is paying the expenses associated with this lawsuit,” the city said in a statement. “The city’s counsel has determined that Mr. Schmoll’s claims are best brought as a separate lawsuit through the tax protest procedures, though the remedy he seeks is similar to the city’s. The incremental increased costs associated with Schmoll’s separate lawsuit are expected to be minimal.”
Affton Fire Chief Nick Fahs deferred comment on the lawsuit to the fire district’s attorney, Frank Vatterott.
Crestwood and Affton will now have to face each other in court in two different counties, Vatterott noted.
“Now we have to fight a lawsuit here and more money for the taxpayers of the Affton district,” he said. “The plaintiff here, Mr. Schmoll, he says that he pays the taxes but the residents of the Crestwood annexed area get the services for free, well, that’s not true at all.”
Schmoll says in the lawsuit that he paid his 2017 taxes of $218 under protest. He hopes to get his taxes back since he believes that it is unconstitutional that he has to pay taxes while annexed Crestwood residents pay “zero,” which violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
But the taxes of the Crestwood residents are paid by their city, Vatterott said.
Crestwood originally lobbied state officials for the passage of the ballot measure that the city is now suing to overturn.
“We’re disappointed that the city would want us to spend more taxpayer money to fight something that they pushed years ago,” Vatterott said.