Lindbergh board votes 5-1 to establish 2013 tax rates; residential up 15.2 cents

Tax-rate roll-up disappointing, says GOP committeewoman

By Mike Anthony

A 2013 residential tax rate 15.2 cents more than the current rate was approved last week by the Lindbergh Board of Education.

The board voted 5-1 Sept. 24 to establish the district’s 2013 tax rates. Board member Kate Holloway was opposed, while board President Kathleen Kienstra was absent.

The approved 2013 tax rates are:

• Residential — $3.6115 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 15.2 cents from the current rate of $3.4595.

• Commercial — $4.0180, an increase of 7.3 cents from the current rate of $3.9450.

• Agricultural — $3.6940, a decrease of $2.0321 from the current rate of $5.7261.

• Personal property — $3.9096, unchanged from last year.

The district’s “blended” tax rate, which is used for state calculations but not levied, is $3.7579, an increase of 13.15 cents from the current rate of $3.6264.

Lindbergh’s 2013 debt-service tax rate will decrease by 2.2 cents, to 47.3 cents per $100 from the current rate of 49.5 cents.

Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett told the board the district’s residential assessed valuation decreased by 4.66 percent this year, resulting in the residential tax-rate increase to remain revenue neutral.

“… The debt-service (tax rate) is going down by 2.2 cents, so it’s really a 13-cent overall increase for a homeowner compared to last year …,” Triplett said. “Last year, we actually lowered the residential rate by 11 cents, so this year’s proposed rate is only 2 cents higher than it was two years ago. And that was with a higher assessed valuation two yeas ago than we have now …”

Regarding the increased residential rate, he said, “… A residential homeowner would pay about 13 cents more than last year, but they’re going to have, on average, a smaller value on their home in which that rate is applied to — same is true of commercial. We did have, thankfully, some new construction this year that got added in, and part of that was the Gravois Bluffs TIF (tax-increment financing development), as well as the Watson Plaza TIF. With that new revenue that we’re hopefully going to get and we should get, we can address some of those immediate needs that we have.

“Student growth is the biggest one,” he said, adding that in June the Board of Education established the District Growth Committee to study that issue. “That committee has been put together and will be meeting in about a week and a half to come up with some potential solutions to address that student growth. But these dollars that we’ll be getting will help in the short term with that very, very much …”

Triplett noted the district’s assessed valuation will not change next year, but in 2015, which is the next reassessment year.

“… But next year, we will sit here, setting a tax rate,” he said. “So if the board next year thinks the taxes are too high, next year they could lower it even though values don’t change.”

Holloway said, “… So when the assessment comes up in 2015, because I know it’s every odd year, can you roll that back because Prop L (a 65-cent tax-rate increase voters approved in November 2010) raised that. So at that point when we go higher, can that roll back? …”

Triplett said, “Absolutely. So if in ’15 assessed values go up, when we sit here in September of 2015, you could lower the tax rate.”

Board Vice President Don Bee, who chaired the meeting in Kienstra’s absence, recalled that for years when the district’s tax rate was $2.75 per $100, the board voluntarily rolled that rate back. From 1995 to 2005, the board rolled back the district’s tax rate and did not collect $32 million.

Because the district’s tax-rate was $2.75, the Board of Education could not roll up the district’s tax rate to compensate for the loss of revenue when the district’s assessed valuation began dramatically declining, Bee said. Only after voters approved Prop L could the board roll up the tax rate due to decreased assessed valuation, Bee and Triplett noted.

Board members Mark Rudoff and Vicki Englund participated in the meeting by telephone.

Rudoff said he wanted to echo Bee’s comments about the number of years the board rolled back the district’s tax rate, noting the district’s long-standing policy has been to take only what was needed.

During the public hearing on the proposed tax rate, Jennifer Bird of Crestwood, who serves as the Gravois Township Republican committeewoman, told the board she was “disappointed” the board was considering increasing the district’s tax rate.

“… I don’t understand that,” she said. “It’s my understanding that there’s $17.4 million in reserve and that’s over 30 percent in reserves. And it’s also my understanding that DESE, that’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Ed for the state of Missouri, will not even look at a school that requests help, says they’re in need — they won’t even look at their need if the reserves haven’t fallen below 3 percent …

“The lowered assessment is an anomaly and it seems that the trends are that the assessment, the housing values are ticking upwards, so this may be a temporary anomaly. But this is a classic example, to me, what the reserves are for. You have a shortfall. You have a large amount of money in reserve. I think you should take from the reserves and not go to the community once again …”

Besides Lindbergh’s Prop L that was approved in 2010, Bird noted that tax-rate increases approved last November for the St. Louis County Library and the Special School District will be levied for the first time this year.

“So while we’re on the bandwagon of raising taxes, let’s not forget that we’ve got two that we haven’t even accommodated in our budgets, and it looks to me like you’re looking to make up a 4.6 percent shortfall (in residential assessed valuation) that the best I can see is an anomaly …,” she said, later adding, “I’m asking you not to raise the taxes …”

Triplett later said, “… We’re not raising taxes, by the way. We’re raising tax rates to get back to the same amount of tax. But a $100,000 homeowner who did (not lose) any value in their home, with this tax-rate increase would pay $24.70 more this year — $24 more. Now we know that values went down, that’s why we’re proposing an increase in the rate just to get back to even on the amount of revenue, which gets us back to even on the amount the homeowner writes the check for. So we’re not raising taxes, we’re raising the tax rate to get back to even.”

In voting no, Holloway said, “… I’m not understanding this big picture and I think that that was one of the biggest concerns of our taxpayers. I think that we need to communicate that more to them. Obviously, they didn’t come, and having a day to look at this, I think I have to vote no.”