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Lindbergh's 'blended' operational tax rate up by 6 cents for 2005-'06


August 31, 2005 - By LAURA UHLMANSIEK

Staff Reporter

Tax rates for 2005-2006 were approved last week by the Lind-bergh Board of Education, but the rates are even higher than the board had anticipated.

A "blended" 2005-2006 operational tax rate of $2.829 per $100 of assessed valuation — up nearly 6 cents from last year — was unanimously approved last week. The blended rate is a combination of four tax rates, so no one actually pays this rate. This is the third year that St. Louis County taxing entities have been re-quired to calculate four separate tax rates.

The four operational tax rates approved by the board for 2005-2006 are: residential property, $2.7940; commercial property, $2.8510; agricultural property, $3.0878; and personal property, $2.9364. These rates do not include the district's debt service tax rate, which has remained unchanged from last year at 38 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

No taxpayers spoke during the public hearing. The board then approved the tax rates 5-0 without discussion. Board member Robert Bader and Sec-retary Vic Lenz were absent.

The four 2004-2005 operational tax rates were residential property, $2.669; commercial property, $2.8841; agricultural property, $3.9283; and personal property, $2.8607.

The debt service was 28 cents three years ago, but increased by 10 cents in 2003 after district voters approved Proposition 4, a $14.1 million bond issue designed to address safety issues at all of the district's schools.

Pat Lanane, assistant superintendent for finance, told board members Aug. 23 that the jump in the tax rate partly is due to an appeal filed against the St. Louis County Assessor's Office for three years' worth of inaccurate assessments. This, coupled with the loss of revenue from the state, has bumped up the district's tax rates.

"The rates are higher than we would have liked them to have been because we had a recoupment that was directly due to an error made by an assessor in '02, '03 and '04," Lanane told the Call.

A group of more than 100 commercial companies, named PAR 270 Partners for the lead plaintiff, filed an appeal with the State Tax Commission against the county assessor for assessment discrimination, contending their assessments were too high for 2002, 2003 and 2004. The State Tax Commission, however, ruled that the PAR 270 commercial properties actually had been accurately assessed, but many of the other commercial properties in the county had been assessed at too low of a rate.

"There was no error in the formula, what they're attacking was the judgment of the assessor as far as the assessing practices. It was simply a difference in opinion," said Rob Drowney, assistant county counselor. "... A property owner has the right to appeal that and the valuation is generally decreased ... So what they challenged is the valuation that the assessor had placed on several other properties and the impact — because this is more of a class action appeal, the impact was larger because you're dealing with a larger number of appeals."

Now, many government entities in St. Louis County are scrambling to determine how much lost tax revenue they can recoup and how much tax revenue they must refund. Taxpayers in the Mehlville School District and the Mehlville Fire Protection District will see only a slight increase in their tax rates for the recoupment.

Lindbergh, however, is being hit hard because Westfield Shoppingtown Crest-wood, one of the main plaintiffs in the appeal, is situated within the school district and so the school district must refund the excess tax revenues it had received from the plaintiffs. Lanane said that the district will need to refund $770,000, but can only recoup $660,000 — more than $100,000 in lost revenue, which is due to a surcharge tax that by law the district cannot raise, even to recoup lost funds.

"We're just going to have to hope that other revenues come in better, or we'll have to use an additional $100,000 in re-serves," Lanane told the Call.

Even without the recoupment, Lanane said the district still would have increased the tax rates this year because of the loss of funds from the state. To help compensate for the loss of revenue, the district submitted to voters Proposition A, a proposed tax-rate increase of 65 cents per $100 of assessed valuation that would have been phased in over a five year period to support general operations. How-ever, when voters rejected Proposition A in the April election, the district had to make $1 million in cuts to its expenditures for next year's budget.

He also said the district must now raise the tax rate to its constitutional limit. Missouri gives school districts the authority to set operational tax rates to $2.75 per $100 assessed value without voter approval.

"We've never taken full advantage of that, and we always pretty much kept to the block, which I think we're still keeping to tonight and taking only what is needed," Lanane told board members at the meeting. "At this point, it is my recommendation and that our needs dictate that we go to this constitutional minimum level."

The district had to add an additional 4.4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to the residential property tax rate and 10.1 cents to the commercial property tax rate for the recoupment.

The recoupment is a one-time levy, Lan-ane said, so tax payers will see the tax rate drop again down to the constitutional limit for the 2006-2007 tax year.

"For residential and commercial, I can tell you right now it will be $2.75," Lanane said.

Lanane said the appeal and recoupment is unfortunate not only because the school districts will lose the money that they actually should have received in the first place, but they also assumed a huge loss in tax revenue due to three years of low assessments on other commercial entities.

"The real crime in all of that is think of all the tax money that we lost because they were under assessing all the other commercial entities," Lanane said. "That's the part that disturbs me. Yeah, these people were kind of right, they filed a case and they proved that they had been over assessed, not over assessed illegally, they were at the legal rate, it's all these huge number of other commercial tax payers that were under assessed, meaning that all the school districts got less money by law than they were entitled to get because of a mistake in the assessor's office. It's unfortunate."

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