Legislation will solve Mehlville’s tax-rate issue

Certification matter first arose for district in 2009.

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\”We’ll be excited to have the governor sign it and hopefully get this tax issue behind us.\” – state Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-Concord

By EVAN YOUNG

Mehlville school officials are expressing their gratitude to south county’s state lawmakers for their work on a legislative solution to the district’s tax-rate certification issue.

They learned last Friday morning that House Bill 506 was on its way to Gov. Jay Nixon after receiving final approval in the General Assembly the day before.

“Everyone here connected to the district is very pleased,” Superintendent Terry Noble said Friday. “We’re also grateful to our representatives and our senator for their diligent efforts in seeing this through.”

Nixon hadn’t signed the bill as of press time Monday.

Dubbed the “Mehlville Fix,” HB 506 aims 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.

If it’s signed into law, the measure would allow the auditor to calculate a school district’s multiple subclasses of tax rates against a “blended” rate instead of a single rate.

“We’re relieved that now, pending the governor’s signature, the state auditor will be able to certify our levy,” Noble said.

When the certification issue first arose in 2009, 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.

However, legislation that would’ve solved the problem failed to make it through the General Assembly in previous sessions despite being inserted into several bills.

This time around, legislators filed stand-alone bills, and the district found support from lobbyists with the Missouri School Boards’ Association and Cooperating School Districts.

“We’re obviously excited to get it done. It’s been something that my predecessor tried to do for the last couple of years to get the issue resolved …,” said Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-Concord, in reference to former Rep. Walt Bivins. “We’ll be excited to have the governor sign it and hopefully get this tax issue behind us.”

Fuhr sponsored HB 506 along with fellow Republican Reps. Cloria Brown of Lemay and Marsha Haefner of Oakville. Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, sponsored its counterpart, Senate Bill 210.

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 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 law 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.

The issue has had little impact on district taxpayers as the county still has levied the property-tax rates approved by the Board of Education.