NEWS

Governor signs property tax bill

John Hacker

The end of November of every year is always a bad time for Missouri property owners like Don Craig.

He knows that one day that week, a huge bill will come from the Jasper County Assessors Office letting him know how much he owes in property taxes.

Every two years in the spring, Craig, like all other property owners, gets another letter from the assessor's office telling him what the county says is the value of his property and that number never seems to shrink.

"When you get that piece of paper that says your valuation went up, you can't put a dollar amount on that piece of paper," Craig said. "I think you get hit by this about every year when you get that property tax notice. You never know what the bill will be until you get it. You can't plan for it."

On Wednesday, Gov. Matt Blunt, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, Sen. Gary Nodler and others visited the farm just down County Road 230 from Craig's place to sign into law a piece of legislation that might help a bit.

The one element of this bill that will help all property tax payers is earlier notification to tell them how reassessment will affect their property tax bill in December.

"One of the things I've always been upset about, and particularly with senior citizens but also with all property owners, is they get this notice in the Spring that shows their values went up," Gibbons said. "They don't have the slightest idea of how it affects them when the bill comes in November. And if it's an increase, that's hard to handle in five or six weeks before the end of the year. Now with mandatory rollbacks, you shouldn't see those kinds of increases, but if something does happen, you have a chance to appeal it and you certainly have a chance to know where you stand in June rather than the end of November before you have to pay those taxes at the end of December."

The major element in Gibbons' bill is a mandatory roll-back of taxes by all property tax entities when property reassessment happens.

Currently, according to Gibbons, any taxing entity, with a levy that is below the levy authorized by voters can leave their levy alone, even if property values go up.

"Where I live, the county average property value increase was 22 percent, but the county left their levy the same, which was a 22 percent increase, $12 million," Gibbons said. "That's real money, and all this says is that everybody in that reassessment year, is under a mandatory roll back, so if values go up, the taxes come down."

Most taxing entities in Jasper County have levies set at the voter-authorized maximum, so they are required by the Hancock Amendment to the Missouri Constitution to reduce their levies if their property values go up.

Gibbons said the following year, if the board or council still believes it needs the revenue, it can raise the levy, and then it can revisit the issue in public meetings.

"The voters have said they can go up to whatever the voter-approved levy was," Gibbons said. "What's going to be different, instead of going through the back door of tax increases by reassessment, it's got to go through the front door, with a public hearing, public discussion and a public vote by that board that's recorded. If there's a need and the voters have authorized it, that school board or that city council believes this is what they should do, at least it's happening in the light of day."

Blunt said the bill "closes a loophole in the 1980 Hancock Amendment."

"Because of this bill, by at least June 15 of every year taxpayers will get information about assessment or reassessment and what their tax bill will be," Blunt said. "That will give them more time to appeal, more time to make the case to local officials that they need to get their own fiscal house in order and not seek a tax increase.

The second and really the most important is mandatory roll-backs. We will keep the spirit and the intent of the Hancock Amendment and mandate rollbacks for homeowners  and property owners in our state."

The bill also expands a state income tax break offered to lower-income senior and disabled homeowners from the current $750 to $1,100. Eligibility will be expanded to individuals earning up to $30,000 annually, instead of the current $27,500, and to married couples earning up to $34,000, instead of $29,500.

The expanded tax break is projected to cost the state about $6 million annually.

Lawmakers also attached to the legislation a provision limiting how much the Department of Revenue can charge bulk buyers for copies of vehicle and driver's license records. Some companies use those records to track the history of used vehicles, inform schools and trucking companies when their drivers have received traffic violations, and administer vehicle safety recalls.

The department had charged $1.25 for individual record purchases and just a fraction of a cent for bulk purchases. On May 1, the department raised that to $7 and did away with the bulk discount.

Carthage Press