Lindbergh official hopes residents will back task force’s work

Task-force members planning to make trip to Jefferson City

By MIKE ANTHONY

Now that the Lindbergh School District’s Taxpayers Task Force has completed its work, a district administrator hopes that residents who agree with the group’s recommendations will sign their names to the report.

Members of the Taxpayers Task Force concluded their work last week by finalizing nine recommendations they hope will benefit taxpayers — particularly those on fixed incomes — without financially harming the school district.

The task force’s sixth meeting on Dec. 27 drew 13 participants and two Board of Education members — Secretary Vic Lenz and Bob Foerstel.

Pat Lanane, assistant superintendent for finance and the district’s chief financial officer, said he believes many Lindbergh residents will be willing to sign the final document.

“… I think we struck a balance and I think most people tend to be more in that middle than on either side of the extreme,” he said. “… Really, anyone that agrees with these principles I think would be free to sign on to this. I don’t think you would have had to — we did the work, but if someone else sees that work and says: ‘Wow, you know, I agree with that,’ I think the more the merrier in terms of getting people to sign on to this.”

The task force previously had given tentative approval to eight recommendations.

Final approval was given last week to those eight recommendations and participants added a ninth recommendation relating to tax abatements, tax-increment financing and tax exemptions that are granted. The recommendation states that it should be mandated that school districts are informed when such tax tools are granted and that school districts be granted legal standing to bring appeals and/or legal action should an appeal fail.

The eight recommendations previously approved by the task force are:

• “That the Board of Education and other taxing entities roll back taxes when balance limits are exceeded.”

• “That current property-tax credits against income taxes are increased and that the income-qualification levels be substantially increased.”

• “That individuals who pay property taxes have the option to defer payment through a state-approved reverse-mortgage program — low interest and fees — until such time as the property changes ownership. However, through a third-party vendor — bank — the district would receive full payment in the current year.”

• “That qualifying senior citizens and other fixed-income recipients have property-tax increases capped at CPI (Consumer Price Index) with the state making up any loss for the school district.”

• “That uniform assessment practices be adopted and enforced throughout the entire state. This will require the development of a statewide property valuation database and the development of procedures that require accountability within each county assessor’s office and mandates an independent post audit to verify the accuracy of assessments.”

• “That all new legislative and regulatory mandates require full funding from the government unit that propagated the mandate.”

• “That any proposed alternative funding source — for property tax — be thoroughly researched for unanticipated negative impacts.”

• “Absent meaningful action by the Legislature during the January 2008 session, a task force that includes constituent organizations as AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) be created to study and recommend aggressive tax initiatives — Hancock-type restrictions, Prop 13-California — for a remedy.”

The Taxpayers Task Force’s report includes four areas — 11 taxpayer concerns, eight school-district concerns, six taxpayer and school-district shared concerns and the nine recommendations.

An introduction to the report states, “The district participated in this effort to provide citizens information and enhance the district’s sensitivity to the concerns of taxpayers and, in particular, the needs and concerns of senior citizens and those on fixed incomes. Furthermore, the district is concerned that the current property-tax system pits the needs of senior citizens against the needs of public school children. The concerns and recommendations herein listed represent those items upon which there was a general consensus agreement.”

It is the task force’s intent that the items contained in the report “be used by school board members, county government officials and state government officials when drafting legislation and making financial decisions that affect the determination of property-tax assessment, granting credits against property and income-tax payments, setting local tax rates and revising the Missouri income-tax and property-tax systems,” the introduction further states.

Among the taxpayer concerns cited by the task force are that property-tax assessments and payments have risen faster than personal incomes and the Consumer Price Index and that tax-rate increases have been particularly harmful to taxpayers on fixed incomes.

“… I do think as we’ve gotten into this, there are really two issues here,” Lanane said. “There’s the big issue of everybody that pays property taxes and there are some problems with that system, but I really think as we’ve gotten into this, it’s such a huge problem. If they’re going to try to have any kind of relief, I’m not sure without just throwing the whole system out and coming up with something else that may be just as bad in the long run, who knows — we’ll see — but you really have to focus upon those groups that really seem to be getting pinched the hardest.”

About the new recommendation regarding tax abatements, Lanane said, “… This exemption piece has gotten huge, and I think it will be become bigger where they try to justify an exemption for really pretty flimsy reasons, obviously to get out of paying huge tax bills … No one’s ever going to give the regular guy who owns a house a tax abatement. It’s not going to happen — ever. So that just shifts the burden to the guys that are paying their taxes.”

Members of the task force will present their report to the Lindbergh Board of Education when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, in the district’s Administration Building, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

The task force also plans to share its findings with with state legislators locally and during a trip to Jefferson City.

Lanane said he particularly wants members of the Taxpayers Task Force to meet with Sen. Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, who serves as president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

“… I think it’s more important that we see Sen. Gibbons than anyone else, to be quite honest …,” he said.