The County Council last week perfected a bill that would give county voters the opportunity in August to decide whether their assessor should be elected.
Councilmen voted 6-1 to give initial approval to legislation that calls for a referendum on the Aug. 3 county ballot to decide the issue. Seventh District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, was opposed.
The bill was up for final passage Tuesday — after the Call went to press. If the council approves the legislation during its 6 p.m. meeting, a court order will be needed to place the issue on the August ballot as the deadline to file proposals with the county election board was 5 p.m. Tuesday.
County Executive Charlie Dooley has asked for the countywide vote ahead of a statewide vote Nov. 2 to determine whether the county assessor should be an elective office.
The Missouri General Assembly adopted a joint resolution about a year ago that calls for a statewide election on a constitutional amendment to require county charters to provide for an elected assessor.
Most counties in the state already elect their assessor. St. Louis County and Jackson County — the two largest counties — appoint their assessors. The proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution is worded to exclude Jackson County from electing its assessor.
But Dooley believes the entire state shouldn’t make decisions on issues that affect only St. Louis County. He wants the county to vote first on the issue. If the county election and state election produce different outcomes, Dooley has vowed that the county voters’ decision would be the one that prevails.
If county voters approve the proposition, they would elect an assessor next April.
The winner would serve through Dec. 31, 2014. The assessor would be elected to four-year terms beginning with the November 2014 general election.
The county executive would fill a vacancy in the office subject to council approval.
Assessor candidates must be qualified voters who have lived in the county for at least two years before the election.
Proponents of electing the county assessor contend doing so would lead to fairer property reassessments because the officer would be accountable to voters — not county officials, who may advocate higher assessments to generate more tax revenue.
But while he supports the idea of an elected assessor, Quinn said last week he believes Dooley’s efforts are politically motivated.
“The county has a conflict of interest in that it’s in the county’s interest to keep assessments and taxes as high as possible,” he told reporters after the council meeting. “I think also that this measure is merely political. It was proposed so that voters won’t be talking about the county administration’s handling of assessments and property taxes in November, when Mr. Dooley is up for re-election.”
Quinn also referenced the statewide vote already scheduled for November.
“If this is such a great idea to have a second vote, then why don’t we schedule it in November? About three times the voters will vote in November that are going to vote in August. We’ll get a much better idea of what voters want if we schedule this in November.”
Dooley’s presumptive Republican opponent this fall, Bill Corrigan, has made the election of the county assessor a talking point in his campaign.
But Dooley has denied that his push for a county vote is tied to his re-election bid.
When questioned about Corrigan’s stance on the assessor issue, Dooley said at a re-cent press conference, “I’m not even going to speak to that. I don’t have an opponent yet. That has not been decided.”