Cape Girardeau County residents whose homes were destroyed in May 6 storms will not have to pay property taxes on those houses for the rest of the year, the Cape Girardeau County Commission unanimously decided Thursday.
The commission passed an occupancy law that will allow victims to have their taxes prorated, meaning the victims who qualify will only have to pay taxes for the first four months of 2003.
"Once they are repaired or replaced, they can go back on the tax rolls," commissioner Larry Bock said. "When people have had the losses like they've had, we want to help out as much as possible. It was just a good thing for us to do."
This resolution will apply to between 20 and 30 homes, Bock said.
No figures have been given yet as to how much tax revenue the county will lose as a result of this action, county auditor David Ludwig said.
The commission's gesture surprised and touched John Baker, 49, of Jackson. The tornado destroyed his family's four-bedroom home at 1008 Morton St. He had lived there for 28 years.
"I never dreamed they would do this," he said. "I think it's a really good idea because this will help us out a lot. Thinking about paying taxes on a house you can't even occupy is overwhelming."
A little easier
The tax break will make things a little easier on the single father of four, who is living with relatives and still raising two teenagers. He hasn't finished filing paperwork with the Federal Emergency Management Agency but intends to soon.
Baker hid with his daughter under his home's staircase when the twister hit.
"We held hands and she asked me if we were going to die," he said. "I said 'Naw, God is with us.' Then the wind broke the windows and glass was flying, I laid on top of her to protect us as best I could. A tree smashed into the back of the house, and it sounded like the whole place was falling down."
The news of a tax break came a day after a curfew was lifted in the city of Jackson to keep looters and gawkers away from tornado sites from 9 p.m. to 6 a..m.
Neither emergency operations director Brad Golden nor police chief James Humphreys made a request to extend it, Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said. Looting was never a significant problem, but the curfew was useful as a precautionary measure, he said.
At the May 12 board of aldermen meeting, Sander declared the city to be in a state of disaster and enacted the curfew. Traffic in and out of those neighborhoods was limited to local residents, city workers and volunteers.
Staff writer Mike Wells contributed to this report.