Tax-rate issue apparently just ‘a one-year anomaly’

\Call the Tune\ by Mike Anthony

\”Call the Tune\” by Mike Anthony

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, Missouri Auditor Susan Montee referred the Mehlville Fire Protection District to Attorney General Chris Koster, contending the fire district’s tax rate didn’t comply with state law.

Montee’s office apparently didn’t understand how to deal with historic tax-rate-ceiling decrease propositions placed on the ballot by the MFPD Board of Directors and overwhelmingly approved by voters.

The fire board voted in August 2009 to set the district’s tax rate at 59.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, an amount it contended was the legal maximum it could levy as a result of the passage in April 2009 of Prop 1 and Prop 2 that reduced Mehlville’s tax-rate ceiling by 40 cents.

But Montee’s office would not certify the fire district’s tax rate, contending that because of the approval of Prop 1 and Prop 2 and provisions in Senate Bill 711 for setting a tax rate in a reassessment year, the district’s actual ceiling was 16.3 cents.

At the time, board Chairman Aaron Hilmer said MFPD officials received no cooperation from Montee’s office, despite citing the ballot language of both propositions contained the phrase: “This proposition is based upon the 2008 assessed valuation of the district. The foregoing shall not be subject to any tax-rate-reduction rollback.”

After Montee’s office released a report in late January stating the MFPD levied nearly $10 million more than the amount legally allowed with its tax rate, Koster filed a lawsuit against the MFPD that asked the St. Louis County Circuit Court to determine the fire district’s tax rate.

That suit is pending.

At the time, Hilmer termed the tax-rate situation “a one-year anomaly” because SB 711 also provides that in a non-reassessment year such as 2010, a taxing entity can levy the maximum ceiling — in this case 67.1 cents — provided it conducts a public hearing and adopts “an ordinance, resolution or policy statement justifying its action prior to setting and certifying its tax rate.” And that’s exactly what the fire board did when it set the district’s tax rate at 67.1 cents on Sept. 24.

Less than a week later, Montee’s office sent certification letters to the county collector of revenue for each of Mehlville’s four tax levies — general, ambulance, alarm and pension.

Given that, we can only conclude that Montee’s office either was playing politics or didn’t understand SB 711. Quite frankly, we’re not sure which is worse.