South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Lindbergh task force gives initial OK to recommendations to aid taxpayers

Task force plans to present report to school board Jan. 8

Members of the Lindbergh School District’s Taxpayers Task Force gave tentative approval last week to eight recommendations they hope will benefit taxpayers — particularly those on fixed incomes — without financially harming the district.

Taxpayers Task Force members plan to sign off on their final report when they meet at 10 a.m. today — Dec. 27 — in the district’s Administration Building, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

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

Members also plan to present their report to the Lindbergh Board of Education when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8.

The eight recommendations tentatively approved Dec. 20 by the task force are:

• “That the Board of Education 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 included constituent organizations as AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) be created to study and recommend aggressive tax initiatives — Hancock-type restrictions, Prop 13-Calfornia — for a remedy.”

Last week’s meeting attracted 10 members of the Taxpayers Task Force and two Board of Education members — Secretary Vic Lenz and Bob Foerstel.

The report given initial approval last week by members of the task force includes four areas — 11 taxpayer concerns, eight school-district concerns, six taxpayer and school-district shared concerns and the eight recommendations.

Lanane said the key is trying to strike a balance between the concerns of taxpayers and the financial needs of the school district. One concern of the school district is that property-tax changes that permanently reduce revenue would be particularly damaging to the Lindbergh School District due to its “frozen-finances” status.

“… I’m never using the HH — hold-harmless — again. It’s frozen-finances status,” Lanane said. “So if we lose the one revenue we have to some significant degree and they don’t — and they reduce taxes, which is a great thing, but don’t come up with a way for us to get even again through income tax or some casinos or some other way, that’s going to hurt. That’s going to be a concern that we would have.”

The chief financial officer also discussed the impact of unfunded or under funded mandates approved by the federal and state governments on both the school district and its taxpayers.

“… A good example is (the federal) No Child Left Behind, but there’s also a sheet there with 15 or more other ones on there … They love to pass these rules and regulations and laws, but they don’t ask the question: ‘How are we going to pay for them?’

“Which is bad because we have to do them and then the impact is to the taxpayer. It’s an indirect (impact) … The money still hasn’t fallen out of the sky for us, so it always goes back and in this school district, it’s going to hit you all …,” he said.

Another concern of the school district, Lanane said, is that property-tax increases could alienate voters — particularly senior citizens — to a point that would negatively impact the district’s ability to provide an adequate education.

“That’s a very nice way of saying you’re not going to vote for any future tax increases if something doesn’t get done to make it possible for you to objectively look at and say: ‘Does the school district really need this or not?’ Because if you’re already at the point if I increase my taxes, you know, any, I’m going to have to give up one of my meals a day, there’s no decision to be made,” he said.

“And so I am very worried about looking into the future if they continue the system as it is,” he continued. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to pass a tax increase in the future.”

Asked why the Board of Education “didn’t roll back taxes in view of the fact that probably you’re getting an increase on the order of 20 percent from the latest reassessment …,” Lanane discussed voters’ rejection of Proposition A — a 65-cent tax-rate increase that would have been phased in over a five-year period — in April 2005.

At that time, district officials told voters that rejecting the measure could cost them more in the long run. They had pledged they would collect only the revenue from the tax-rate increase and roll back any increase the district could levy as a result of reassessment.

“It’s a hard thing to ask the public: ‘Give us a lump of money. We’re going to dole it out a little bit at time. We will roll back our taxes and the only increase you’d see will be out of that,”’ Lanane said. “Well, that didn’t happen. I’m not surprised and I don’t blame anyone because it’s kind of unusual that a government would actually say we’re going to do that and then do it. I think people feel they’ve been stung too many times of governments saying we’ll do one thing and then that’s not what happens …”

Regarding the district’s current tax rate, Lanane said, “We could have rolled back this time and the basic reason it was not rolled back is two years ago we said: ‘We need this tax increase. If don’t get it, to the extent reassessment works in our favor, we will use it.’ So it’s simply a matter of the only funding source that’s really available to us to meet the requirements, to meet what we consider to be our needs in the school district. That’s exactly why this one this year was not rolled back …”

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