School district seeks remedy to tax-rate certification issue

Tax-rate certification matter arose after Prop T’s passage.

By EVAN YOUNG

Mehlville Superintendent Terry Noble says he will meet later this month with new and incumbent state lawmakers to strategize a legislative solution to the school district’s tax-rate certification issue.

A meeting tentatively is scheduled Dec. 16 between Noble and newly elected Republican state Reps. Cloria Brown of District 85, Gary Fuhr of District 97 and Marsha Haefner of District 100, according to the superintendent.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, and outgoing state Reps. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville; Vicki Englund, D-Concord; Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay; and Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, also will be invited to attend, Noble said.

The group will review language for a bill the district hopes will resolve a glitch in state law that has left its tax rates for the past two years uncertified by State Auditor Susan Montee’s office, Noble said.

District voters in November 2008 approved Proposition T, which transferred roughly 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund.

The measure is designed to generate roughly $5.6 million annually for the operating fund. Proposition T did not increase Mehlville’s overall tax rate, but extended the district’s bonded indebtedness by 15 years — to 2029.

The issue with the state auditor’s office arose from Prop T and involves tax-rate calculations unique to St. Louis and Jackson counties.

Beginning in 2003, taxing entities in those two counties were required by state law to calculate separate tax rates for residential, agricultural, commercial and personal property.

The state auditor’s office, however, must be able to reconcile those four rates with a single-rate calculation, which was the method used prior to 2003.

State statute allows a taxing entity to place a proposition on the ballot that either establishes a new tax-rate ceiling or requests a specific amount of an increase to the tax-rate ceiling.

Because the goal of Prop T was to not increase the district’s overall tax rate, the ballot language, as recommended by the district’s bond counsel, established specific amounts of the residential property, commercial property, agricultural property and personal property tax-rate ceilings instead of seeking a 31-cent increase to the ceilings.

State law required the board to vote in August 2008 to place Prop T on the November 2008 ballot — before officials received the district’s final 2008 assessed valuation figures from the county. As a result, the calculations for the ballot language were computed with the district’s 2007 assessed valuation figures.

Because the ballot language was based on the district’s 2007 tax-rate ceilings and not the 2008 tax-rate ceilings, the single-rate calculation wouldn’t reconcile with the four separate rates and the state auditor’s office would not certify the district’s tax rate.

Montee’s office has allowed the district to fix the problem through legislation and has not referred the matter to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office for possible injunctive relief.

The certification issue also hasn’t impacted school district residents as the county collector of revenue has levied the tax rates approved by the Board of Education.

However, legislation that would’ve solved the certification problem failed to make it through the General Assembly during its last session despite being inserted into several bills.

Noble hopes legislators will prefile a stand-alone bill later this month.

“Fortunately we’ve already got the language ready to go from last session,” the superintendent told the Call. “It’s just that the bills it was inserted into, not one of them made it past the floor. Not because of our language; these were just amendments attached to other bills that just didn’t make it through.

“I was told that there just wasn’t much that passed last year. The (state) budget was on everybody’s mind, and I guess people really just didn’t have the opportunity to focus on any new legislation. It was about taking care of business with the budget crisis.

“This will be filed as a stand-alone bill but I’m sure it will be placed on some amendments again,” Noble added.

Besides legislators, lobbyists for the Missouri School Boards’ Association and Cooperating School Districts also will be part of the conversation, Noble said.

Their job will be to communicate with other state legislators about the legislation’s impact on Mehlville and, potentially, other taxing entities, he said.

“Quite frankly, when you’ve got an obvious conflict in a bill, it needs to be fixed,” Noble said. “And it just so happens that it’s going to impact somebody else down the road if we don’t fix it.

“We also have to assure people that this isn’t going to have any unintended consequences for them, because that’s one reason why if you file a bill it appears to be only about the Mehlville School District then people maybe will be OK with it. If it doesn’t appear to just be about us, then they may think well this could have an unintended consequence.”