Missouri voters asked to require assessor elections in St. Louis area

Outstate Missouri voters already do it.

Every four years, almost all Missouri voters choose who their next tax assessor will be in partisan elections.

But voters in first-class charter counties don’t — the assessors in St. Louis, St. Charles and Jackson counties are appointed by county government officials.

Lawmakers last year passed the proposed constitutional Amendment 1 appearing on next Tuesday’s ballot, requiring all county assessors to be elected — except Jackson County’s, because its lawmakers put language in the proposal that exempts Jackson County (“any county with a charter form of government and with more than 600,000 but fewer than 700,000 inhabitants”) from the amendment’s effects.

The debate during the 2009 legislative session especially focused on citizen complaints about assessments in St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

There, lawmakers said, assessors were just changing property values without regard to homeowners’ ability to pay.

Part of the problem appears to be laws written in the 1980s, following a 1979 state Supreme Court ruling that property owners were entitled to equalized values, that require county assessors to keep track of each home’s “fair market value,” and keep their assessment lists up-todate so that property owners are confident their home is valued at an equivalent level as their neighbors’ homes.

But some homeowners around the state have complained that climbing property values are causing their tax bills to explode.

Harry Chambers, cofounder of the group St. Louis County Residents For Property Tax Relief Now, said during a Capitol news conference last year: “Each county was directed to plan and implement a reassessment program. ...

“It has failed miserably.”

And state Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, said at that same news conference: “One 85 year-old lady had a tax bill that had gone (up) in three years, from $2,800 on her house that had had no improvements in that time period, to over $4,000 a year.

“When you get a $6,000 tax bill, that’s a $500 rent payment to the government every month, on a house that you’ve already paid for.”

Supporters of the proposed amendment believe passing it and forcing assessors to face regular elections will mean the assessors will do a better job of protecting taxpayers from skyrocketing assessments.

At the same time, some local officials in rural areas — especially school administrators whose districts are in more than one county — complain that some elected assessors do a better job than others of obeying the state laws requiring assessors to pay attention to fair market values and keeping all property values consistent with those standards.

There has been no major campaigning on either side of the issue.

The ballot language on Amendment 1 reads:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to require the office of county assessor to be an elected position in all counties with a charter form of government, except counties with a population between 600,001-699,999?

“It is estimated this proposal will have no costs or savings to state or local governmental entities.” A yes vote would change the Constitution. A no vote would keep things as they are now.

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