Changes in assessment wouldn't hit outstate until 2005

Sunday, May 26, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- On the heels of a scandal in St. Louis County over so-called "drive-by" assessments and homeowners around the state smarting over dramatic jumps in property taxes last year, a movement in the General Assembly to reform how property is assessed for tax purposes seemed afoot this year.

However, when lawmakers went home May 17, major changes in statewide assessment procedures were among the unaccomplished goals.

Still, legislative efforts on property taxes aren't a total failure with the passage of a bill intended to ensure that an increasing share of the property tax burden isn't unfairly shifted to homeowners.

Initially, though, lawmakers sought sweeping reform.

Proposals included an outright ban of drive-by assessments, in which inspectors double-check a home's value as determined by a computer analysis simply by glancing at a home as they passed it in their cars.

Another change called for restricting assessment increases to 5 percent of a property's previous value, if not for all property owners then at least for lower-income elderly Missourians.

The assessment cap, in various forms, failed and although the drive-by ban survived, it would apply only in St. Louis County, not statewide.

Also, the provisions of the bill that would apply statewide, assuming Gov. Bob Holden signs the measure, wouldn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2005. The measure would affect assessments in St. Louis County starting Jan. 1, 2003.

Each parcel of property in the state is reassessed for tax purposes every odd-numbered year. That means county assessors in most of the state would still be following the old rules during the 2003 reassessment cycle.

Cape Girardeau County Assessor Jerry Reynolds said that even when the law applies to the rest of the state for the 2005 cycle, it would have little impact.

"It is not going to be a major problem for us," Reynolds said.

The biggest change affecting assessments in outstate Missouri would be that assessors would be required to physically inspect property that increased 15 percent or more in value, instead of the current 17 percent threshold.

However, the provision that physical inspections must consist of an on-site evaluation of all exterior parts of a property accessible to inspectors would apply only in St. Louis County.

Calculating rollback

Where the measure would have the biggest statewide impact for homeowners is on their property tax bills.

Current law prevents taxing jurisdictions, mainly school districts, from profiting from higher assessments. They are forced to roll back their tax levies to keep them from bringing in more revenue, minus a cost of living adjustment.

However, the way the rollback has been applied has shifted the tax burden from commercial property owners to homeowners.

Residential property is assessed based on fair market value, which tends to increase. Commercial property is assessed on its earning potential, which changes little. At present, the rollback doesn't take that disparity into account.

"The old rollback failed to protect taxpayers from tax increases caused by reassessment," said state Sen. Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.

The fix lawmakers proposed would roll back tax levies by different amounts for the various subclasses of property.

If the change works as intended, it would offer greater protection for homeowners. However, it would require school districts and other taxing entities to have separate tax levies for each property subclass, instead of just one.

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