Mehlville Board of Education agrees to roll back 2013 tax rate by 2 cents

Franz proposes rolling back residential rate by 15 cents

Rich Franz

Rich Franz

By Gloria Lloyd

After learning the Mehlville School District’s total assessed valuation declined more than originally estimated, the Board of Education did not roll up its tax rate as much as it could have last week, leaving 2 cents off its potential top tax rate.

Citing district taxpayers’ declining property values, all the board members who voted in June for a budget based on a full “roll-up” of the anticipated tax rate voted at the Sept. 26 tax-rate hearing to not collect roughly $330,000, compared to the revenue the district took in last year.

The board voted 6-1 for the plan, with board Secretary Rich Franz opposed.

The district’s final assessed valuation of $1,654,000,000 declined by 3.3 percent compared to last year, according to information provided to the board by Chief Financial Officer Marshall Crutcher.

The approved tax rate, offered by board member Kathleen Eardley, shaves 2 cents off the fully rolled-up “blended” tax rate, setting the rate at $3.610 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 7.29 cents. The blended rate is not levied but used for state calculations.

The approved tax rates are: $3.761 for residential, an increase of nearly 11.2 cents; $3.5727 for commercial, up slightly from $3.5716; $4.0710 for agricultural, down from $4.0920; and $3.9871 for personal property, down from $4.0081.

Even with a full roll-up, the district would take in $578,000 less than it received last year, and the fully rolled-up tax rate would have hit the maximum rate this year for residential.

“No matter what the board decides tonight, we cannot be revenue-neutral,” said Superintendent Eric Knost, who offered a proposal that would take a penny off the fully rolled-up tax rate and not collect $167,000.

Franz proposed setting the residential tax rate at $3.63, or 15 cents less than the maximum $3.78 rate, and the commercial rate at $3.29, 30 cents less than what Knost recommended. Board member Kathleen Eardley seconded Franz’s motion.

Those tax rates would have left $1.7 million uncollected from residential taxpayers and $900,000 uncollected from commercial taxpayers, Crutcher said.

In essence, that proposal would speed up the already-planned five-year spend-down of the district’s reserves, but in one year rather than spread over five years, board President Mark Stoner said.

But Knost disagreed with what he called an “extreme option,” suggesting that the district already has one of the lowest tax rates in the state for a district of its size and that if an even lower tax rate was approved, a ballot issue might be necessary to restore funding to levels that could sustain the district’s current programming.

“Let’s give something back. We have some extra money, but let’s not destroy anything that we’ve got in the future,” board member Ron Fedorchak said. “There are so many benefits to the technology program, the teacher merit program … We’re walking away from those things if we go all the way up to $3.2 million …”

Board Vice President Lori Trakas cited the roughly $1.2 million in payments the board will receive this year from the Riverview Gardens School District for its transfer students attending Mehlville. Combined with taxpayers’ declining assessments, the board had a unique opportunity to reward Mehlville taxpayers for their historic support of the district, she said.

“People in this community do remember,” she said. “There may come a time when the community remembers that you remembered them when they were having such a hard time economically.”

Board member Larry Felton offered an amendment to Franz’s motion that would change the proposed tax rates to Knost’s recommendation of 1 cent off each property class. That amendment was approved 4-3, with Trakas, Stoner and Franz voting against it.

Eardley then offered an amendment proposing a 2-cent rollback on each of the property classes. That proposal was ultimately approved 6-1, with Franz opposed.

Although Trakas pointed out that when the budget was passed in June, a budget that planned for a 2-cent rollback failed, Felton said the board has better information in its hands now about the economic state of the district. Board member Elaine Powers cited the additional Riverview Gardens funds, which also provide a fiscal cushion.

“We do have some revenue coming in that at that point (of the budget discussion) was not even on the radar at all,” she noted.

Four speakers during the tax-rate hearing, including former Republican Sen. Jim Lembke, asked the board to return money to taxpayers, with some citing the $22 million in the district’s reserve fund — roughly 22 percent of the budget.

The board approved a policy two years ago to keep the reserve funded in a range of 13 percent to 18 percent, and the board plans a spend-down of its current reserve over the next few years.

“Let’s bring down that reserve a little bit and maybe give back a little bit to the people that could really use it right now because of the economy,” said Alan Leaderbrand of Lemay, who serves as the Lemay Township Republican committeeman.