• Frustrated Taxpayers Speakout

To The Editor:

During the past several months, as one member of the Missouri House of Representatives Task Force on Property Taxes, I have frequently been asked just what it is that the Task Force is doing.

The short answer is that the task force was formed to look into property tax reform in the state of Missouri. This task force was given the assignment of studying and reviewing the assessment process as well as looking at legislative ideas from around the country on how to deal with rising property taxes. The creation of the task forces comes after continuing tax increases across the state, particularly in the St. Louis metro area. Members of the task force included state legislators as well as citizens from across the state.

The following represent my own thoughts. It seems to me that we now have a property tax system that is substantially out of control.

In 2005, total collections of property taxes in the state exceeded $5 billion – an amount equal to all collections of state income taxes – and during the past two years, property tax collections will have substantially exceeded state income taxes, I predict. Further, the overall collection of property taxes in the state has escalated at a rate two or three times higher than general inflation for a period of 10 years.

Our property tax system has become one of taxation by presumed increase in property values every two years, a method that has questionable economic substance, as paper gains on home values, etc., do not become real ones until the property is sold – and the vast majority of property owners do not sell their property on that kind of timetable.

Even the federal government, an organization not generally known for tax restraint, usually does not tax gains until something is sold, and those gains actually are realized. Further, a great many local taxing districts have managed to reap significant hidden tax increases by failure to roll back their tax rates commensurate with the presumed appraised value increases via reassessment.

The system was not intended that way as I understand it. The original Hancock Amendment required the various taxing districts to “roll back” their tax rates to a level which would yield them only the amount of revenue they had collected the previous year, plus an allowance for inflation. Over time, that restriction has been eroded in one manner or another, and full tax rate roll backs commensurate with assessment increases are now the exception rather than the rule – at least in urban taxing districts with which I am most familiar.

A great many taxing districts have managed to obtain tax rates that are higher than what they actually need – and so long as their current implemented rate is below that maximum, they essentially are free to set their current rate at whatever they please – without being hampered by the voters.

In a great many cases, the voters have no say in the matter.

The result has been unprecedented increases in property taxes over a period of many years.

While I believe that a great many assessment officials try hard to do their job properly, mass property assessments are hardly an exact science, and many variations in overall quality and accuracy seem to be prevalent across the state.

I am not sure it can ever be made workable – the assessment process is too imprecise, and the various laws and regulations regarding effective tax rates far too complex and which allow far too many loopholes – usually, to the taxpayers’ determent.

What is in essence an out-of-control taxing situation has not been hampered or slowed to date by effective legislative action at any level, state or local, it seems.

It also is apparent to me that property owners are outraged. I do not believe that word is too strong.

While senior citizen homeowners have been hit hard by this situation – the overall impact has adversely effected all who pay property taxes – regardless of age or economic status.

Taxpayers do not understand the current system, they find the maze of rules and regulation incomprehensible, they cannot predict with any accuracy from one year to the next what to set aside to pay such taxes – and they are fed up.

They want change, they want it now – and they want lower property taxes – that message has been clear.

I have seen far too many people come before our Task Force, of all ages, who have genuine fear that they will not be able to continue to live in their homes or continue to own other property – because they simply cannot afford the constantly increasing property tax burden they face. They also appear to be of the view that all officials and office holders involved with property taxes are indifferent to their plight.

My own observations have forced me to examine the very real probability that many taxing districts in general have insatiable appetites for constantly increasing tax revenue – without undue regard for the consequences.

Further, a bad situation, in my view, has been made much worse by far too great a use of TIF (tax increment financing) incentives by governmental entities at all levels within the state. To the extent that tax abatement incentives remove investment from the property tax rolls, or avoid adding such investments to the tax rolls – an increased tax burden is placed on all other classes of property owners who do pay property taxes.

We need to address methods of relief for all taxpayers at all ages and at all economic levels. The problem is too widespread and pervasive to limit consideration to one class of taxpayer or another.

All taxpayers require and deserve a better system than the one now in place – one which demands a reasonable level of good stewardship from those who consume tax revenue, and yet provides for needed government services, while discouraging waste or foolish spending

Finally, above all else, no property tax increase should ever occur by circumventing voter approval.

Creve Coeur

To The Editor:

I just read all the Letters to the Editor published in the Dec. 5 issue.

The frustration level over the outlandish tax increase imposed on the homeowners is growing each day. It is hoped that this frustration is carried over to the next election. However, ousting St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley may not be the answer as all politicians seem to take up the same approach, similar to a kid in a candy store.

I also attended the Missouri Property Tax Task Force meeting and agree with many of the comments regarding this meeting as being a sham. There was no organization, not enough room to accommodate the attendees, and no microphone used by the speakers. The first portion of the meeting was a St. Louis County Department of Revenue representative telling us that they were just following the law. Apparently they only follow the portion of the law that works for them.

My real estate tax increased 28 percent on a house that decreased in value and my increase by far was not as high as some. I did see paperwork from an individual who owned a strip mall that had an increase in taxes from $10,000 to $25,000 and at the same time the County allows tax breaks to new businesses.

Is the tax liability for Charles Dooley and the Department of Revenue employees public information? If so, did their property tax increase match the general public increase?

Why do the employees have a guaranteed pay increase of 9 percent (many people who are being taxed unfairly have lost pay, benefits and jobs). Why is a staff reduction never considered?

Missouri Sen. Michael Gibbons is introducing legislation to roll back the 2007 tax increase around the state. This is a good thing; however, this legislation will not keep the people of the state or St. Louis County from paying the unfair assessment fee. I may have missed same, but I have not heard the mayor of Chesterfield address this issue.

Many retirees are convinced that St. Louis County does not want retirees residing in the County, or maybe even the state.

Chesterfield

To The Editor:

Thank you so much for responsibly reporting the activity surrounding what probably is the most unjustified theft of the people’s money since the governments started taxing. Please note that radio 550, 590, 1120, and yes even 97.1FM are all but ignoring the issue. The same is true for the local TV stations.

Although Channel 2 (FOX) recently commented on the tax bills, they grossly misinformed the public by stating that there was nothing they (the public) could do until 2009. This is absolutely wrong. Every taxpayer has the right to pay their tax under protest.

This is especially true in view of the lies that accompanied the original assessments that stated a higher assessment does not necessarily mean a higher tax.

Get real, assessor.

There is so much that stinks about the process that neither the County Supervisor or his appointed assessor should have a job at this point.

Why is the media ignoring the subject?

Silence on the subject also is apparent from St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley (laughing to the bank), the mayor of Wildwood (same laughter), Ed Marshall, and Missouri Rep. Allen Icet. What’s wrong, gents? Knee weakness?

Ron Kardell gave you an accurate rundown of the process in your Nov. 14 newsmagazine.

I went to the conference. When I scheduled, I asked what information would be useful to discuss my position. I was tersely informed that “all I do is schedule, I don’t know what you should bring.”

Arriving early, I stopped by the “Property Owner Advocates” table and told them I was advised by an attorney to bring as many listings that I could for the year that showed how ridiculous my assessment was, plus-42.8 percent. All at the table agreed that the information was valid.

Next stop was the conference. A very pleasant young woman advised me that they could not accept listings. I understand that they cannot use them for assessing, but rarely are homes sold for more than the asking price. She advised that essentials include two comparables and if possible a commercial appraisal (60 mile round trip and 3 hours wasted).

Because my assessment was more than a 15 percent increase, I had a visit from a county appraiser. I was on my front porch with the phone company and saw him drive up and park in front of the entry porch. He said who he was and asked if there was anything I wanted him to see. I said the only thing he should see is how ridiculous the assessment was. He looked at his file, asked me about number of bathrooms, and said “this is not a mansion.” I said, “I know that, what do you mean?” Well, they have a code letter, no criterion, just arbitrarily assigned codes that significantly affect the assessment. As he left, he stated that he could guarantee that my new assessment would be in line with the rest of the neighborhood. He did not even walk around the house or take a measurement of any form.

A new assessment received some weeks later referenced the informal conference, but not the visit by the appraiser. Bottom line: no change.

I requested a hearing with the “Equalization Board” armed with my two comparables and a commercial appraisal that clearly showed a major reduction was in order. First stop was a screener who I informed of the appraiser’s visit and told him I want to see the Board as I was suffering County-induced fatigue. He disappeared for 30 minutes to the back of the room looking through books and consulting with others. He came back stating that there would be a reduction that somehow was overlooked. I said I want to see the board. He said OK, but first you have to sit with our assessor.

A very nice retired person who once worked for the County (hired again to do this job) listened to my story and came up with his own number for an assessment that he would recommend. I told him that he was very close to fair, but I still wanted to see the board.

I reviewed my history, my comparables, their hired appraiser’s recommendation, my appraisal, and much more. A gentleman fighting sleep commented on my very comprehensive presentation.

The new assessment received weeks later ignored all, but did recognize the drive-by assessor.

Finally, I read (St. Louis County Director of Revenue) Eugene K. Leung’s Letter to the Editor in the same issue. His last paragraph brought laughter tears to my eyes. He points out that the County takes an extra step with the informal conference and provides the Property Owner Advocates. Why is it that all politicians are eager to talk about what they provide, but fail to state the expenses associated with their actions? And it is our money they are wasting.

Keep up the good work.

Wildwood

To The Editor:

Tax season again, we can tell that by all the letters to the editor.

What I find both amusing and as a landowner, frustrating, is where these people are at election time year after year. Voters of this county put into office those people who promise them the most: a new water park in Ballwin, a new four-lane highway whether it is needed or not.

The problem with high taxes comes as a result of high spending.

The baby boomer liberals want to fund another attempt at public transportation. It was you, the voter, who proposed and elected the people who decided that you needed to pay for the Metro Link. If it were privately owned and operated, it would have been shut down. But you wanted it and how do I know that? You elected the people who did it.

It is right now that the voters should decide where the money comes from for all of these public good works.

The only time your complaint about high taxes counts for anything is at the voting booth. If you elect fiscal conservatives, you will not get your water park, but hopefully your taxes will not go up as fast.

One more time, complaining about high taxes should be done in April and November at the polls. Elect the person who promises not the new teacher’s assistant, but holding the line on new taxes of any kind.

Ballwin

To The Editor:

West Newsmagazine has done an excellent job covering the frustration of those property owners who have had extraordinary property tax increases.

I am included in that group; my taxes have increased 35-plus percent in the last two assessments (three tax years). However, the process for change is not tilting the board of equalization, rather the assessor needs to be made accountable to the taxpayers, not the county supervisor, and the voters can and should consider recalling the government rather than try “jaw”-boning them to act responsibly.

Why don’t those who want change meet to prepare a ballot issue for the assessor to be elected and recall St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley and the St. Louis County Council who are perceived to be the problem?

Act rather than complain.

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Published in: on January 17, 2008 at 8:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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