Charter panel weighs changes to appeals

In a series of public Board of Equalization hearings July 25, commercial and residential property owners try to convince that they properties are worth less than originally assessed.  The current Board of Equalization is comprised of three members; under the Charter Commission’s potential proposal, the Board of Equalization would expand to possibly three boards, with three members each. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com 

As the St. Louis County Board of Equalization hears tens of thousands of assessment appeals, one of the county Charter Commission work groups is considering an amendment that would allow the board to temporarily expand during appeals.

At the July 10 Charter Commission meeting, commission member Greg Quinn, who just retired as director of revenue and previously served for decades on the County Council, reported that the governance work group had discussed the possibility of adding a provision in the Charter that would allow the Board of Equalization to expand to three boards with three members each if the need ever arose. Currently the board consists of three members appointed by the county executive to three-year terms.

“Right now we have one commission that may or may not be able to hear all the appeals even working evenings and weekends,” said Quinn. “It does worry me a little bit that … this might be misinterpreted by the electorate as … we’re expanding government, when in fact we’re just trying to give everybody a fair hearing.”

Reassessments have been a hot topic over the past several months, as they increased an average of 15 percent countywide. Some county residents have expressed their frustration with the increase, and the appeals board is expected to hear a record number of assessment appeals between now and the fourth Saturday in August.

Although it hasn’t happened in the past, Quinn said any assessment appeals that are not considered by the board by the August deadline automatically default to what residents think their property is worth, which can be quite a bit lower than what the property was appraised for.

“That would greatly decrease the assessed valuation of districts, and there’s going to be a bunch of districts that that’s very, very bad for,” said Quinn. “Some districts would be able to raise their tax rate to make up for it, but some districts are already at the maximum… It would also be very bad for the citizens who didn’t appeal or who got a hearing in districts that are able to be raised to make up for the lost revenue,” if appeals are defaulted on.

Commissioner Courtney Allen Curtis, a former state legislator, expressed concern at the ability to fill additional boards, especially when multiple existing county boards and commissions have vacancies that remain unfilled.

“I think it’s more important to have the authority in the Charter to have those positions to be filled if the right people are found,” said commission member Bob Grant, a former deputy county counselor. “Right now we can’t exceed three people. I just think it’s a good idea to have the authority to expand it.”

The commission did not make any motions or recommendations.