Assessment Declines May Not Lead to Tax Cuts (In Case You Thought They Might)
The Post-Dispatch has a front-page story today with tremendous statewide applications. It corrects assumptions about next year’s reassessment process that many people, according to the story, might have. First, the Saint Louis–area assessors that were interviewed don’t seem to think the assessment declines will be that substantial, but the article’s second point makes this moot — taxing districts are protected (a poor choice of words, I admit) from revenue decreases that result from lower property assessments. Any taxing district can increase its rates to make up the difference.
The part about assessments declining only 3 percent, according to most of the assessors the Post spoke with, is probably going to frustrate and upset many people, but in the end it does not mean much. What difference does it make if your assessment declines by 3 percent or 15 percent (on average for a community) if taxing districts increase rates by the same amount, to make up the difference? The answer is that it will make no difference, and your best hope in the assessment lottery is to see your property value decrease more than average. In that case you may actually see a lower tax rate.
I have written many times about how the Saint Louis County assessor actually does a good job on aggregate, but with so many parcels, there is almost no way to avoid the element of chance that comes with the process when you look at one individual home’s assessment. It is that element of chance that infuriates so many people. My own thoughts about how to change the system include eliminating the individual assessment and averaging everything. There are other reasons that people so viscerally dislike the property tax when compared to others taxes, the two main reasons are the fact that the process feels like a lottery, and the fact that this tax is the only one for which most people sit down and write a check to the government.
In conclusion — and to you young bloggers out there, it is poor form to end blog posts with “in conclusion” — the most that average Missourians should expect from reassessment next year is that their property taxes probably will not rise. After the increases that many have seen during the past decade, a leveling-off for a couple of years might not be so bad.