Bills pending in General Assembly to remedy school district’s tax issue

Noble confident tax-rate issue will be resolved this session.


Dual bills that would remedy the Mehlville School District’s tax-rate certification issue are pending in the Missouri General Assembly.

One of those measures, House Bill 506, is scheduled for a hearing today — Feb. 24 — before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Its counterpart, Senate Bill 210, recently was referred to that body’s Ways and Means and Fiscal Oversight Committee. No hearing was scheduled at press time.

Both pieces of legislation — dubbed the “Mehlville Fix” by school officials — aim to solve a glitch in state law that has left the district’s property tax rates for the past two years uncertified by the state auditor’s office.

The bills would change state law to allow the auditor to calculate a school district’s multiple subclasses of tax rates against a “blended” rate instead of a single rate.

“It’s a fix to the statute … to ensure that the will of the people is fulfilled,” said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, the Senate bill’s sponsor.

District voters in November 2008 approved Proposition T, which transferred roughly 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund.

The measure is designed to generate roughly $5.6 million annually for the operating fund. Proposition T did not increase Mehlville’s overall tax rate, but extended the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years — to 2029.

The issue with the state auditor’s office arose from Prop T and involves tax-rate calculations unique to St. Louis and Jackson counties.

Beginning in 2003, taxing entities in those two counties were required by state law to calculate separate tax rates for residential, agricultural, commercial and personal property.

The state auditor’s office, however, must be able to reconcile those four rates with a single-rate calculation, which was the method used before 2003.

State statute allows a taxing entity to place a proposition on the ballot that either establishes a new tax-rate ceiling or requests a specific amount of an increase to the tax-rate ceiling.

Because the goal of Prop T was to not increase the district’s overall tax rate, the ballot language established specific amounts of the residential property, commercial property, agricultural property and personal property tax-rate ceilings instead of seeking a 31-cent increase to the ceilings.

State law required the board to vote in August 2008 to place Prop T on the November 2008 ballot — before officials received the district’s final 2008 assessed valuation figures from the county. As a result, the calculations for the ballot language were computed with the district’s 2007 assessed valuation figures.

Because the ballot language was based on the district’s 2007 tax-rate ceilings and not the 2008 tax-rate ceilings, the single-rate calculation wouldn’t reconcile with the four separate rates and the state auditor’s office would not certify the district’s tax rate.

When the certification issue first arose, then-State Auditor Susan Montee allowed the district to fix the problem through legislation and didn’t refer the matter to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office for possible injunctive relief.

The glitch also hasn’t impacted district residents as the county collector of revenue has levied the tax rates approved by the Board of Education.

But the proposed legislation “should make the process much easier,” said Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-Concord, who is sponsoring House Bill 506 along with Reps. Cloria Brown, R-Lemay, and Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville.

Superintendent Terry Noble said last week he planned to attend today’s committee hearing on House Bill 506 with Fuhr and the district’s legal counsel, who likely will testify.

While efforts to correct the tax-rate certification issue last legislative session were unsuccessful — despite language being inserted into several bills — Noble said he is confident the matter will be resolved this time.

“It’s a complex issue to get your arms around,” Noble said, but “if everyone understands that it’s just about Mehlville — and the three state legislators and senator from the Mehlville School District area say we need this and it helps us but it doesn’t really apply to everyone else — then it’s probably easier to get support.”