“Taxes Go Up Incrementally; Why Shouldn’t They Come Down Incrementally?”
That is what my former boss, now judge, Kurt Odenwald used to say when people told him the property tax rate cut he successfully championed for St. Louis County during 2005 was not worthwhile because it would only result in a savings of $20 or so per family. Now, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley — who initially opposed the 2005 cut, but ultimately signed it into law — is proposing a similar rate cut for 2009. The Post-Dispatch has the story here. I applaud Mr. Dooley for this, and I hope that the county council passes it, which I am pretty sure it will.
I don’t care if it is just a small tax rate cut, it’s still a cut. During prior years, like 2005, the cuts were needed to offset tax increases in part that were brought about by reassessment. This year, when that rate cut is combined with an assessment decrease (even if that decrease is smaller than expected), the actual money total could be higher than the press is predicting. If it saves my family $25, then my response is to be glad it saves me $25. I am certainly not of the opinion that the government is able to make better use of that money by pooling it for the public good better than individuals are, via private decisions — rather, that is the belief of statists everywhere.
What about the idea that the cut should be greater? Well, I agree with Councilman Quinn that there should have been a rate cut back during 2007, too, but I think the one for 2009 is terrific. The fact is, there is only so much that St. Louis County can do. Its current tax rate is far lower than those of most other taxing entities. For real tax relief to come to the people of St. Louis County, that has to come at the state and county level via reforming the assessment process.
For the actual money you pay based on those assessments, the rates set by schools and cities and fire districts generally dwarf the county rate. If your school district increases its rate by 5 percent to make up for the assessment decrease, that will eat up any savings (and more) you’ll see from the county tax cut, and there is nothing Charlie Dooley or the county council can do about that. St. Louis–area residents have chosen to have a large number of fragmented governments, and both good and bad comes with that. If the county cuts taxes, but everyone else were to raise them, that would be an example of the bad — and that is not Charlie Dooley’s fault.
I commend the county executive for removing the bond issue from the ballot and seeking to lower the tax rate.