Mehlville tax-rate roll-up meets opposition from board members, public

Board nixes Stoner’s motion to keep rates at 2010 levels

By EVAN YOUNG

While the Mehlville School District will roll up its residential and commercial property-tax rates to stay revenue neutral this school year, the proposal faced opposition last week from some Board of Education members and several residents.

The board voted 4-3 last week to set the district’s 2011 tax rates, with Secretary Elaine Powers and board members Rich Franz and Mark Stoner opposed.

As approved, the new rates, per $100 of assessed valuation, are:

• Residential — $3.6761, up from $3.5469 in 2010.

• Agricultural — $4.0897, roughly unchanged from last year.

• Commercial — $3.4372, up from $3.3947 in 2010.

• Personal property — $3.9678, roughly unchanged from last year.

The district’s overall “blended” rate, which is not levied but used

for state calculations, is $3.6748, an increase of roughly 10 cents over the 2010 “blended” rate of $3.5763.

The rates are based on the Mehlville School District’s total 2011 assessed valuation of $1,690,943,880, which is a roughly 3.4 percent decrease from $1,749,832,650 in 2010.

The district projects collecting $60 million from property taxes in 2011. It collected $60,948,000 in 2010 and has averaged $58,388,167 in property-tax revenue over the past six years.

Officials anticipate no new revenue from the reassessment of property this year.

However, all but one of the speakers at a packed Sept. 27 public hearing on the new tax rates urged the board not to roll up the rates.

“When Proposition C failed, it failed overwhelmingly. That should’ve been a message right there,” district resident Robert Sabatino told the board, referring to a proposed 88-cent tax-rate increase Mehlville voters defeated last November.

“… You gotta ask yourselves: Am I doing the right thing? The eyes of … our community are on all of you. We’re all watching to see what happens,” he added.

Oakville resident Laurine Main said, “We told you ‘no’ at the last election. How dare you get in our face and try to raise taxes in spite of what we told you. It’s wrong, just wrong.”

Fred Padberg of Lemay, who applied for a vacancy on the school board earlier this year, stressed to the board that “there’s a hell of a lot of us retired people living in this area that are supporting this school system.”

“Guys, these people are retired. They’re retired, they have a limited income — it’s frozen. You can’t arbitrarily, constantly be loading another tax on their backs,” Pad-berg told the board. ” … Rethink this, and think about it hard.

“You’ve got a constituency out there that you’ve got a responsibility to. In some cases, the people that pay the bills are called ‘the boss.’ And that’s what we are. We’d appreciate it if you’d pay attention to what these people are saying,” Padberg added.

Ken Dale of Oakville said while he understood and appreciated education, “it does have confines like everything else has, whether you’re in business or not. And you can’t just keep reaching out here and grabbing from these people and saying: ‘We need more, we need more, we need more.’ Because there is a bottom to the bucket, and we’re getting there. And I would appreciate it very much if you would take that into consideration …”

But Oakville Senior High School math teacher and former Mehlville National Education Association President Karen Torretta said that the district produces “the best and the brightest on a shoestring budget” and is “one of the greatest values in this state.”

“You talk about having people picking up the load, you talk about cuts in staff. And yes, that happens in the private sector. Yes, that’s going on,” Torretta said. “We have taken dramatic cuts that I don’t think many of our community realize.

“Our Central Office administrators are picking up the load. Our building administrators are picking up the load. Our teachers, our IT people, our secretaries — there have been cuts to all of those. We’re picking up the load, because the focus that we all look at is the children in this district and their education,” she said.

Later, Stoner made a motion to keep the district’s tax rates at their 2010 levels, contending there was enough “cushion” in the budget and “record-level” reserves to do so.

Franz seconded Stoner’s motion and thanked the speakers who addressed the board. He said the previous Board of Education “ignored and insulted” district taxpayers when it put Prop C on the ballot last year.

The current board did the same this summer when it granted pay increases to district teachers and classified personnel, he added.

“So it seems to me that this board has an opportunity to finally show some respect to the taxpayers of this school district and to finally say that they can hear what the taxpayers are saying and do the right thing tonight, and I hope you all intend to do that,” Franz said.

However, Stoner’s motion failed as he and Franz were the only board members to vote in favor of it.

Board member Ron Fedorchak said he supported rolling up the rates because it was a revenue-neutral proposal.

Leaving the rates unchanged and using reserves to offset the revenue loss would hinder the district’s ability to address facilities needs and other issues, he said.

Board Secretary Elaine Powers proposed a compromise, suggesting the amount of the tax-rate roll-up be split in half so the district would share some of the burden to collect the same amount of revenue as last year.

Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch said even halving the roll-up would cost the district an estimated $1.2 million this year — and again in 2012-2013 if the board didn’t roll up rates again next year.

Vice President Larry Felton and board member Tom Diehl noted the state funding forecast is unclear, particularly for 2013 and beyond.

“You can’t manufacture money that’s not there. For that reason, I will not put the classrooms at risk,” Felton said.

Diehl said the school board already has made “substantial” cuts to the budget for the current year in order to “maintain the status quo.”

“Yes times are tough, but our obligation remains,” Diehl said. “A child has one and only one chance to receive an education. We can’t tell that boy or girl: ‘Go away and come back in a few years when the economy is better.'”

Franz later responded that the real issue was restoring credibility with the community.

“Folks, they don’t trust you,” Franz said to applause from the audience. “… You have an obligation to earn their trust. You are not credible in their eyes …”