Decline in property values most likely to have little impact on local schools

Lindbergh, Mehlville boards to set tax rates in September

By Gloria Lloyd

Lindbergh Schools and Mehlville School District officials say their budgets will most likely stay about the same next year, despite a significant decline in preliminary real-estate assessments.

Residential property values in the Mehlville School District have decreased 6.8 percent since 2011, and commercial values declined by half a percent, according to the county assessor’s office. In Lindbergh Schools, residential home values declined by 6.2 percent and commercial values went down by .9 percent.

The districts’ chief financial officers had not expected assessments to decline.

“I was a little surprised,” said Noel Knobloch, chief financial officer for the Mehlville School District. “I didn’t think they’d be going up, but I thought they’d be fairly stable this year.”

School districts have to submit their budgets for the next school year by July 1, before final real estate assessments are published and state funding is set. So district administrators are preparing budgets for next year right now, using the preliminary values as a guide.

Lindbergh Schools receives 92 percent of its budget from local taxes, and the Mehlville School District receives 65 percent of its budget locally, with most of that from property taxes.

Despite that reliance on local support, however, the decline in value is not as much of a concern for the districts as it may first appear.

School districts are limited in their tax rates under the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment. If assessed values increase, districts must roll back their tax rate to give relief to taxpayers, after allowing for only a 1.7 percent inflation increase or the amount of increased assessment, if it is lower than the rate of inflation.

In the case of decreased assessments, both the Mehlville and Lindbergh school boards can “roll up” their tax rates, which would keep the dollar amount of what taxpayers send to the district the same through an increased rate on a lower-value property. Some taxpayers could pay more and some could pay less, depending on their home’s new assessed value.

Tax rates for the two school districts will be set by the boards in September.

Knobloch estimates Mehlville’s budget will remain stable next year, depending on whether the school board “rolls up” the tax rate. Separate taxes on $8 million of new construction in Mehlville this year will mostly make up for the decrease in other property values.

By rolling up the rate as housing values declined during the recession, Mehlville’s budget has stayed about the same since 2008. However, another round of declining assessments in two years would be difficult for the district to navigate if it reaches the state-mandated limit on its tax rate this year, Knobloch noted.

“It’s difficult when you have a $100 million-plus budget to not have any new revenue to work with, when all your costs are going up,” he said. “You have inflation in utilities and transportation costs, and all other costs are going up.”

The Mehlville Board of Education voted 4-3 in September to increase the district’s “blended” rate, which is not levied but used for state calculations, to $3.6827 from $3.6661.

At Lindbergh Schools, administrators are examining the district’s budget to save money wherever they can without cutting staff or salaries, as they add teachers and a bus route to accommodate new students.

“We’re just going to scrimp and pinch our existing budgets, yet one more time,” Lindbergh Schools Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett said. “We know everyone is having difficult times, so let’s tighten our belts and do the best we can.”

Even with the 65-cent Proposition L tax-rate increase voters approved in 2009, Lindbergh is now taking in about as much revenue as it was four years ago due to the decrease in property value, while serving 400 to 500 more students, Triplett said.

The district adds between 100 to 125 new students a year. It maintains one of the lowest tax rates in the county, at the same time it has been named the highest-performing academic district in Missouri for three years in a row.

In 2011, Lindbergh assessments decreased by 1.8 percent and Mehlville by 2.5 percent. Before 2009 and the housing crisis, rates in the districts generally increased at every assessment. In 2007, for example, Lindbergh’s assessed value increased by more than 16 percent.

Last year, Lindbergh lowered its residential tax rate by roughly 11.7 cents per $100 of assessed value after a one-year increase due to Prop L. Lindbergh Board of Education members put Prop L on the ballot after cutting $4.7 million from its budget after the first wave of reduced assessments came out that year.