Tax-rate lawsuit goes out with whimper, not a bang

\Call the Tune\ by Mike Anthony

\”Call the Tune\” by Mike Anthony

A lawsuit filed against the Mehlville Fire Protection District by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster went out with a whimper and not a bang last week as a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge ruled the district’s 2009 tax rate did not violate state law.

Koster’s office filed suit against the district in February 2010 that asked the circuit court to determine the fire district’s 2009 tax rate. As we first reported in November 2009, then-Missouri Auditor Susan Monte’s office deemed the fire district’s 2009 tax rate to be higher than permitted under state law and referred the issue to Koster for further action.

The tax-rate issue stemmed from voter approval in April 2009 of two propositions reducing the fire district’s tax-rate ceiling by a total of 40 cents and how Montee’s office elected to apply that tax-rate-ceiling reduction to the district’s 2009 tax rate.

Interestingly enough, when Koster’s office filed suit against Mehlville it attracted the attention of other area publications, which printed some woefully inaccurate articles. Yet these same publications never corrected the inaccuracies nor published any follow-up stories when the fire district’s 2010 tax rate was certified by Montee’s office.

MFPD Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer said he’s pleased with Associate Circuit Judge Patrick Clifford’s ruling, but also noted the judgment brings to a close a nearly five-year “odyssey” to allow MFPD residents to reduce the district’s tax-rate ceiling. Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman first had voted in December 2006 to place a tax-rate-ceiling decrease measure on the April 2007 ballot. But that measure was removed after a legal challenge from Concord resident Dennis Skelton, who ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate for the board in April 2007.

In fact, state law had to be changed to allow the fire board to place the tax-rate-ceiling decrease measures on the April 2009 ballot. Not surprisingly, both measures were overwhelmingly approved by voters — but only after withstanding another legal challenge from Skelton that sought to remove the propositions from the ballot.

And now the “odyssey” comes to a close after nearly five years and the decrease in the district’s tax-rate ceiling is forever, Hilmer said.

Quite frankly, we never understood all the furor over the board’s efforts to allow residents to reduce the district’s tax-rate ceiling because in the end, it was much ado about nothing.