County seeks fee increase for assessing property

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

A lobbyist hired by the Cape Girardeau County Commission will push for an increase in a fee the county charges cities, school districts and other taxing entities for assessing property.

If the county's lobbying firm is successful with the state legislature, it could mean an extra $180,000 for the county's assessment fund, county assessor Jerry Reynolds said. The money would be used to help operate the assessor's department, which officials say is understaffed.

The assessor's department has an annual operating expense of about $550,000.

Most of the extra $180,000 would come from school districts, which have already taken numerous funding hits from the state.

Currently, the county charges cities and school districts 0.5 percent of the tax revenue it collects from those areas. The county wants to charge 1 percent.

Once delinquent taxes are figured, Cape Girardeau School District chief financial officer Rob Huff estimates the district will take in between $14 million and $15 million in property and real estate taxes next year.

That would mean a hit of about $70,000 to that school district.

But Huff said he could see how the school could benefit in the long run because the assessor's office might be able to better assess properties and bring in more taxes for the district.

Jackson School District brings in about $8.4 million in property and real estate taxes. The increase in the fee would mean roughly $40,000 for that district.

The commission voted 2-1 to hire Local Government Solutions for $4,000 to lobby on behalf of the county.

Commissioner Gerald Jones, also president of the Missouri Association of Counties, said the same firm lobbied successfully to increase the fee for first-class counties Cass and Taney. If Local Government Solutions gets a ruling in the county's favor, the firm will receive another $11,000 from the county.

"When these other counties got it, my first question was, 'Why not me?'" Jones said. "Several, if not all, first-class counties will see about getting this legislation."

The county's assessment fee was reduced from 1 percent to 0.5 percent in 1997 when the county's total assessed valuation reached a determined figure and the county was deemed first class.

"The facts are that we have lost a great amount of money from the reduction of reimbursement from the state tax commission," Jones said.

Should the change go through, the city of Cape Girardeau would stand to lose roughly $7,500 and Jackson would be out around $6,500.

Commissioner Larry Bock voted against the measure, even though he agrees the county should get more from collecting the taxes.

"I felt like a MAC lobbyist, our commission lobbyist and our legislatures could have covered well for us and would help in this case," Bock said. "I didn't feel like we needed to hire another lobbyist."

The county's 2003 budget consists of $3.2 million in fees.

The use of fees, Jones said, lets the county operate without using any property taxes. However, the county's roads and bridges are maintained by property tax money.

Staff writer Callie Clark contributed to this report.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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