More tax funding erased for Cape schools

Friday, July 25, 2003

and Callie Clark ~ Southeast Missourian

The financial hits just keep on coming for the Cape Girardeau School District.

A $1.3 million adjustment in Cape Girardeau County's property tax valuation, spurred by Lone Star Industries' protest of its 2003 tax assessment, will mean $54,000 less in local revenue for schools.

"I didn't think everything could go bad in one year, but maybe I was too optimistic," said superintendent Mark Bowles. "Our budget is as lean as it's ever been. It's as lean as we can make it."

A review of Lone Star's assets revealed that the local plant was assessed for property it no longer owns and was over-taxed for assets used to control noise, water and air pollution.

County assessor Jerry Reynolds said company officials had originally asked for a $3 million reduction in assessment, but settled on $1.3 million.

"They were justified in their request," Reynolds said. "It's not good news for the school district, but it could be worse."

School district officials have spent the last two months lamenting the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in next year's state funding as well as less-than-expected local property growth.

While the district will receive more tax revenue in 2003 than it received in 2002, the growth is not nearly as much as hoped for.

Officials conservatively budgeted for a 3 percent increase in assessed valuation, but believed the growth would be closer to 7 percent because this is a reassessment year.

Instead, assessed valuation grew only 2.3 percent, which, based on preliminary numbers, would have brought in around $320,000 more in tax revenue for 2003 than in 2002.

That amount dropped by $54,000 Thursday when Cape Girardeau County's board of equalization, which consists of the county commission, the county assessor and auditor, voted to lower Lone Star Industries' assessment by $1.3 million. The school district's tax levy is currently set at $3.99 per $100 assessed valuation.

"There's an awful lot that money could go for," Bowles said. "It equates to two computers labs, two teachers' salaries."

Lone Star property tax manager Richard Wroblewski from Indianapolis and David G. Belpedio, a senior manager in Kansas City with the accounting firm KPMG, met with the Cape Girardeau County Commission and the board of equalization Thursday to discuss the discrepancy.

Lone Star hired KPMG to audit its plants nationwide.

"We made three visits to the plant and spent a substantial amount of time dissecting the facility," Belpedio said. "We identified what is and what isn't there. Many of these items were removed several years ago."

Belpedio admitted that the company failed to take those items off the assessment list, but said there is no reason the company should have to continue paying those taxes.

Because it lies in an enterprise zone, the company is entitled to tax breaks for any pollution-controlling assets that are on the plant. Originally, those assets were assessed at the usual 33 percent of market value, but should have been assessed at 25 percent of market value because of the enterprise zone break, Belpedio said.

"Lone Star is a good corporate neighbor and will continue to pay for its fair share of taxes," Belpedio said.

The only other significant change to this year's assessed valuation was a $425,000 adjustment to Chateau Girardeau's assessment.

According to Reynolds, the nursing home made changes in its Medicare program in the past year, making certain items exempt from property taxes.

The changes with Chateau Girardeau will mean around $17,300 less for the school district. However, Reynolds said enough revenue has been added to the total valuation through the board of equalization's review of the initial assessments to offset the adjustment.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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