Dooley wants county voters to decide if assessor should be elected

By EVAN YOUNG

A decision to elect the St. Louis County assessor should be made by county voters — not the whole state, the county executive said this week.

County Executive Charlie Dooley on Monday asked the County Council to consider legislation that would let voters decide in the Aug. 3 primary election whether the county assessor should be an elected office.

All Missouri voters will see the same proposal on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. The 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.

“For them to come in and say what we ought to do I think is inappropriate,” he told reporters Monday, noting that with a AAA credit rating and fully accredited health and police departments, St. Louis County is capable of making its own decisions.

If the county election and state election produce different outcomes, Dooley said he would support whatever county voters decided.

“If the county says ‘yes’ (to an elected assessor) and the state says ‘no,’ it’s going to be ‘yes.’ If the county says ‘no’ and the state says ‘yes,’ it won’t matter,” Dooley said. “Whatever St. Louis County does, that’s what’s going to matter to me.

“St. Louis County is a charter county,” he added. “We make our rules ourselves.”

The County Council introduced the legislation for Dooley’s charter proposal at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Officials likely would need a court order to place the proposition on the ballot as the deadline to file proposals with the election board is 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 25. Without expediting the legislation, the earliest the council could pass the bill would be the evening of May 25.

As there are primaries scheduled for Aug. 3, the county could place the assessor proposal on the ballot at no additional cost, Dooley said.

If county voters approve the proposition, they would elect an assessor in an April 2011 special election. 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 value assessments because the officer would be accountable to voters — not county officials, who may advocate higher assessments to generate more tax revenue.

One such supporter, Republican Bill Corrigan, hopes to challenge Dooley in this November’s county executive race. Electing the county assessor was a talking point in Corrigan’s campaign announcement last June.

“For the past five years, Charlie Dooley has repeatedly opposed the idea of an elected assessor, and he’s on the record about it. Charlie has done nothing in the last eight years to fix the broken and unfair tax system,” Corrigan said in a statement Monday after Dooley announced his proposal.

“Last year, I released my property tax reform plan to county voters that included the recommendation of an elected assessor,” Corrigan stated. “This announcement today from Charlie is a transparent attempt to get re-elected and voters are not going to be fooled by his election-year conversion to good government.

“I’m glad to be leading this and other important efforts that mean a lot to voters. Charlie’s lack of leadership on this and too many other issues is causing unnecessary hardship to county citizens.”

But Dooley on Monday defended the county’s current assessment setup.

“Our process is a very professional process,” Dooley said, adding, “I don’t know what’s best. We have a great system right now. Would an elected assessor be a better person? No it won’t. Would it make this process better? No it won’t. We have the best, transparent process in the state.”