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Supreme Court won't hear Ameren assessed value case

Supreme Court won't hear Ameren assessed value case

February 22nd, 2018 in Local News

The Missouri Supreme Court will not take on the ongoing case concerning property values for Ameren Missouri's natural gas facilities.

The state's high court declined to hear the case after being asked by the counties and school districts supporting a higher property value for the Ameren facilities.

That action sends the matter back to the State Tax Commission, which will determine the appropriate depreciation deduction taken from the original value calculated by Cole County Assessor Chris Estes on Ameren's gas facilities. How soon the commission could come to a decision is unknown.

Cole County has paid more than $600,000 in legal fees since the case began, officials said.

In 2013, Jefferson City Public Schools, the Blair Oaks School District, Cole R-1 (Russellville) School District, Missouri River Regional Library and Jefferson City government entered into a defense cost-sharing agreement with Cole County.

During a closed meeting Tuesday, the County Commission and other officials discussed the status of the case with representatives of some of the school districts.

No votes or actions were taken during the meeting.

For as long as the legal battle continues, the property taxes Ameren has paid under protest remain locked in escrow with the counties — revenue not flowing into the budgets of taxing districts like public schools, fire departments, libraries, public works, the counties and the state.

The appeal request to the state Supreme Court involved the Sept. 26 ruling by the Kansas City-based Western District appeals court that Estes didn't properly evaluate Ameren's Cole County facilities.

Ameren Missouri has natural gas distribution equipment in 25 Missouri counties, and it challenged the property assessments since 2013 — in 16 of those counties, including Cole, Callaway and Moniteau.

After each county's Board of Equalization upheld the local assessor's values, Ameren appealed all of those decisions to the State Tax Commission.

The tax commission accepted the counties' figures in October 2015, and Ameren filed a lawsuit in the circuit courts for each of the 16 counties.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled in Estes' favor Aug. 1, 2016 — and other judges issued similar rulings in separate cases.

Ameren appealed Beetem's ruling and others to the state Supreme Court, arguing the high court had exclusive jurisdiction under the Missouri Constitution because the appeals involved a revenue statute.

But the court declined to hear the cases then, instead sending the rulings to the appropriate appeals court district for each circuit.

The Western District's ruling on the Cole County case came first; but since late September, the appeals court's Southern and Eastern districts have issued similar rulings — sending the cases back to the Tax Commission for a re-calculation of the property values on which Ameren's taxes would be based.

Cole County officials have said the difference between Estes' assessed value of $17,040,760 for 2013 and Ameren's calculation of $6,559,522 for the same year means the county's various taxing entities could lose around $600,000 in revenue — with Jefferson City's Public Schools losing about $400,000.

Although the numbers are different in each county, the results would be similar.

In the 41-page September ruling, Western District Judge Cynthia Martin wrote an issue before the courts was the Tax Commission's decision to change its forms in 2013 from those used previously, including an instruction to county assessors "to arrive at a reasonable level of depreciation" for the natural gas equipment.

Ameren Missouri officials argued they consistently followed tax guidelines for depreciation per the Missouri Tax Commission's required form of return. They also maintain overpaying taxes would hurt their customers and by following tax guidelines they are helping keep rates lower for their customers.

In other commission action, commissioners are sending letters of support for two proposed housing developments.

One is to rehab and add units to Cedar Ridge Apartments on Charm Ridge Drive. The current proposal would be submitted to the Missouri Housing Development Commission includes building 16 additional units and a community building, as well as to rehab the current 72 existing units. The project could become a reality if MHDC funds are approved.

The other is a new development, Trade Center Apartments, being proposed by Pointe Royale Development out of Springfield. These would be located at Trade Center Parkway and Old Lohman Road, four blocks from the intersection of Big Horn Drive and U.S. 50. It would consist of two, two-story buildings with 16 apartments in each building. There would be 20 two-bedroom apartments and 12 three-bedroom apartments. It would be owned by a private partnership that would secure funding through the sale of housing tax credits. That is dependent on getting funding approved by the MHDC.

Also on Tuesday, the commission approved having the Cole County Ambulance Service enter into a four-month agreement with a recruiting service as they try to hire three full-time paramedics.

Director Jerry Johnston said they have been unsuccessful in recruiting full-time paramedics for the last four months.

"We've exhausted our means here and generally national ads are expensive and yield little results for systems our size," he said. "I am asking the commission to engage the services of a professional EMS recruiter with a much broader, in-depth reach than we currently have. The $2,000 cost is very little considering the scope of work and the fact that that price alone pays for itself in five overtime shifts."