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Bill would close property transaction records


February 23, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER

For the Call

An effort to secure more state aid for su-burban schools could prevent potential home buyers from comparing market values of properties.

Under pending legislation in the Mis-souri House, property transactions would be stricken from public record. The sale, purchase or transfer of property by governmental entities also would be concealed from public view. Property value assessments would remain public records under the legislation.

Because the legislation would require "certificates of (property) value" across the state, not just charter counties like St. Louis County, supporters say the measure would redirect more state funding to suburban schools by equalizing property value assessments throughout the state.

Certificates of value create a historical record of property sales and transactions so people can gauge whether they're paying a fair price comparable to the price paid for other homes in the neighborhood.

Third-class counties don't keep those records. Property owners have the sole discretion in releasing information regarding the sale or purchase price of their homes.

While House Bill 235 requires those rec-ords across the state, it also shields them from public view, and opponents don't like the idea of withholding information from the public.

"Anytime there is information the government collects that could be beneficial to the public, it ought to be open to the public," said Jean Maneke, an attorney who represents the Missouri Press Association. "It would help in terms of gathering information on their property, in terms of getting the real market value of their home."

But state Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-Webster Groves, who introduced the bill, said the certificates will help equalize assessed values across the state, thus equalizing the distribution of Missouri education dollars across the state.

Because some out-state counties don't use the certificates, out-state assessors, who are elected rather than appointed, are unable to view historical market values to make accurate property assessments, she said. In effect, state funding for schools pours into rural Missouri because property values are under assessed, Fares said. School districts with higher property tax bases like Mehl-ville and Lindbergh, however, have received the same state funding since 1993.

"If we're going to use the property tax as the base for our school funding (from the state), it should be raised fairly," Fares told the Call. "I see this as a way to do that."

Reps. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, and Jim Lembke, R-Le-may, signed onto the proposal.

Schoemehl said she didn't know of the closed-records provision, saying she signed onto the legislation with hopes of bringing more money to south county schools.

"It's (the legislation) a tool for assessors. It's a tool that has worked in St. Louis and Kansas City," Schoemehl told the Call. "It's a way of recording how things happen (properties are assessed) over time ... It's making (assessments) equal all across the state. All across the state, (property values are) not measured the same and that would be beneficial for everyone."

Bivins said, "We probably wouldn't be having this ongoing conversation about un-equitable school funding if those rural properties were assessed like they are in St. Louis County and if those school districts taxed them like we do in St. Louis County."

Bivins didn't know about the provision to conceal property values either.

"Well that's too bad," he told the Call. "I guess I didn't know that (was part of the legislation) ... I would think that would adversely affect home buyers because they would have no way of making comparable prices. I don't think I'd like that."

But, he added, "Even with that part in there that I'm not fond of, getting those (out-state) folks certificates of value would be a step in the right direction. It would come closer to what we do in St. Louis County. It's going to make Missouri better fund their schools."

Fares said her bill would not supersede local ordinances, meaning St. Louis County transactions still would be open to the public. But the legislation does not specifically include a not-to-supersede clause.

Maneke, also a private-practice lawyer, said Fares' legislation would overlay local ordinances, but wouldn't necessarily sup-ersede them. It would depend on which law was more strictly enforced, she said.

If local governments tried to make the certificates available to the public, the state probably could stop them. In which case, the courts may have to make the final decision, Maneke said. Fares introduced similar legislation last year that failed. In the past, the Missouri Association of Realtors has opposed Fares' proposal, claiming it would allow the Missouri Tax Commission to set up a property transfer tax.

"That certainly is not my intent," she said.

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