County Council considers cutting tax rate by 2.25 cents
September 14, 2005 - By LAURA UHLMANSIEK
St. Louis County residents are one step closer to seeing a slightly lower tax rate.
At a public hearing last week on the county's proposed tax rate, the County Council divided along party lines, voting to recommend reducing the tax rate by 2.25 cents.
The proposal, sponsored by Coun-cilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrews-bury, would reduce the county's tax rate of 58 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 55.75 cents by cutting the debt service tax rate.
The County Council was scheduled to consider final approval of the tax rate Tuesday night — after the Call went to press. The County Council by law must set the county's tax rate by Sept. 20.
The council voted 4-2 to recommend the proposed tax rate cut. Besides Odenwald, Chairman John Campisi, R-south county, and Republican Councilmen Greg Quinn of west county and Skip Mange of Town and Country voted in favor of reducing the tax rate. Opposed were Democratic Coun-cilmen Hazel Erby of University City and Kathleen Burkett of Overland. Council-man Michael O'Mara, D-north county, was absent.
If approved, the cut would be the first change to the county's 58 cent tax rate in 16 years. The county's tax rate is comprised of several levies. The debt service fund, which is used to redeem bonds and the accumulated interest, totals 8.5 cents of the county's current tax rate. It is the only fund that would receive less revenues through the tax-rate cut, which Odenwald said would not hurt the county's operations.
Odenwald previously told the Call that because the county's assessed valuation has increased, the 58-cent tax rate increase will bring in excess revenues and the county should "return some of that money back to the taxpayers."
If the County Council approves the proposed tax rate, County Executive Charlie Dooley could veto the bill. Mac Scott, Dooley's spokesman, told the Call that Director of Administration Jim Baker, who has sharply criticized the proposed tax rate, represents the county executive's stance.
In an Aug. 30 e-mail to the County Council, Baker stated the tax rate-reduction was bad policy for the debt service fund. The debt service fund has a lower balance than normal because last year, the county had to shift the debt service fund's 8.5-cent tax rate to the general fund to compensate for stagnant county revenues.
"The 2005 rate was established not only to cover current payments, but also to restore a portion of the reserves we depleted," Baker stated. "The rate proposed by Councilman Odenwald would certainly not jeopardize our ability to make debt service payments in 2006, but it would not restore any of the reserves we drew down last year.
"More importantly, it would significantly decrease our future debt capacity — unless Councilman Odenwald is proposing a lower debt service rate for 2005 only and he is advocating a subsequent rate increase in 2006,'' Baker stated in the e-mail.