Lindbergh voters to consider waiver of sales-tax rollback

By MIKE ANTHONY

Voter approval of Proposition L next week will have no impact on the Lindbergh Schools’ tax rate, but will benefit taxpayers, children and the district, according to Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane.

Lindbergh voters will consider Proposition L, a waiver of the state’s Proposition C sales-tax rollback, when they go to the polls next Tuesday.

Proposition C is a 1-cent statewide sales tax dedicated to education funding. Half of the revenue collected is divided among the state’s public school districts and the other half is returned to taxpayers in the form of a property-tax rollback unless district voters have approved a waiver of that rollback.

However, because Lindbergh’s current operational tax rate is the state-required minimum of $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation, voter approval of the Proposition C rollback waiver would not have any financial impact, according to Lanane.

However, if the Board of Education decides to seek a tax-rate increase at some point in the future, the rollback waiver would come into play. Without the waiver, Lindbergh officials would have to seek a tax-rate increase greater than what is needed. Currently, Lindbergh would be required to roll back 14.8 cents if its tax rate was greater than $2.75.

Cognizant of the financial difficulty residents and businesses are experiencing as a result of the current recession, district officials pledged last November not to seek a tax-rate increase for at least 24 months.

But board members discussed on several occasions their desire to seek approval of a waiver of the Prop C sales-tax rollback before voting in August to place Proposition L on the Nov. 3 ballot.

During a Board of Education meeting earlier this month, Lanane outlined how Proposition L would affect taxpayers, children and the district. He first discussed the ballot language, which asks whether the Board of Education “be authorized to eliminate the reduction in the operating levy for school purposes as provided under Missouri law?”

“… I don’t like the wording, particularly, but we are limited by the state as to the wording we use,” he said, noting the key words of the ballot language are “eliminate the reduction.” “… It’s really a calculation, a tax-rate calculation, that we’re really talking about here — something that does have to do with auditing and numbers and rates. And for some people, they really just aren’t really tuned into that. So what we find is it’s more important to talk about who else has gotten this in the past … And in fact, it’s very, very common — 431 districts out of 523 in the state have voted ‘yes’ on this.

“Of the ones that don’t have it yet, they either fall into our category — I think probably most of them do. They haven’t ever run one yet, and I’ll explain why that is — or it didn’t pass. But I think for the vast majority, it’s passed. It’s passed overwhelmingly, particularly when you’re in the situation Lindbergh is. In St. Louis County, 18 of 23 districts have already passed this …”

Noting the 1-percent statewide sales tax was imposed in 1982 to fund education, Lanane said, “It was a great deal for schools with tax rates above $2.75 because everybody won. The school district got some extra money and the taxpayers got to lower their tax rate. But if you were at $2.75 or below, it didn’t make any sense. And that’s why a lot of districts have already passed it because it doesn’t make any sense for them and it doesn’t make any tax difference to their taxpayers.

“And that’s exactly the situation we find in Lindbergh. It really doesn’t work for Lindbergh because what will happen is in the future should we ever go out for a tax increase, we will have to ask for more if we do not get this waiver. If the waiver doesn’t pass, we’ll ask for more than if it passes, and that’s because without the waiver we have to give some of it back,” he continued.

“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not exactly being — I don’t want to say truthful because it’s the law — but it’s not exactly being square with the public to ask for more than you need with the promise that eventually you’ll give it back. I think most people — I’ve been around here awhile and most of the people I know in Lindbergh would tell me that’s not a good way to do business. Ask us for exactly what you need, not a penny more, and then we’ll think about it. That’s been my experience in Lindbergh.”

Passage of Proposition L would benefit taxpayers, children and the district, Lanane said.

“… It benefits taxpayers because we’ll ask for a smaller increase in the future … and we’ll only ask for the funding that we actually need. It benefits kids because again asking for more than you need is never popular and so in a very direct way, it could hurt kids in the future if we don’t have this waiver,” he said. “And it benefits the district. We currently receive the benefit of $4 million. Without this in the future we’ll lose the benefit of $2 million because that will have to go to pay down this property tax … Where does the sales tax come from? It comes from all the stuff people in the school district buy at the stores, and we’re getting that money now. I think most people in the district would like us to continue to get that money. I don’t think there’s any desire on their part to see that money go somewhere else …”

The chief financial officer emphasized that passage of Proposition L will allow more state dollars to stay in Lindbergh.

“… Prop L will allow more state dollars to stay in the district at no additional cost to taxpayers, and a ‘yes’ vote would mean a lower property tax rate in the future. So while I can’t tell people to vote ‘yes,’ we see that as the effects. Very objectively, those would be the effects of Prop L,” Lanane said. “… I think it really gets down to this: If Lindbergh voters understand this enough to believe it’s not a tax increase — and it’s not a tax increase — and if they believe it’s good for kids in the Lindbergh district in the future, I think we will see a lot of people vote ‘yes’ for this. I think that’s what they’re looking for …”

During a recent interview with the Call, Superintendent Jim Simpson noted voters in 431 school districts throughout the state have approved a waiver of the Proposition C sales-tax rollback.

“… There’s 523 school districts in the state and well over 400 have passed Prop C waivers in this state, showing you that well over 400 communities have looked seriously at this, gone to the polls on this and said it’s the right thing to do to vote ‘yes,”’ he said. “I think that is an incredible supermajority and hopefully Lindbergh will be right there with the supermajority.”