State Sues Fire Protection District Over Tax Ceiling

The state of Missouri has filed suit against the Mehlville Fire Protection District over problems with the district’s tax rate. The suit, filed by Attorney General Chris Koster on February 8, 2010 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, challenges whether Mehlville collected more in property taxes than state law permits.

In April, 2009 the District’s voters passed a measure to lower the tax ceiling by 36 cents per $100 of assessed property, from 74 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 38 cents. The measure was hotly contested, with Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer strongly advocating the cut, and prevailing in the end. The tax ceiling is not the tax rate, but the tax rate cannot exceed the tax ceiling.

The problem was that the state was busy with its own initiatives to limit taxes, and passed a law that some (including the State Auditor Susan Montee and the Attorney General) interpret as limiting Mehlville’s tax ceiling to 37 cents per $100. According to the state, the combined effect of Mehlville’s 36 cent tax reduction measure and state law, have limited the district’s options for taxes to charging a maximum of 1 cent per $100.  In other words, when the district voters thought they were reducing the tax ceiling from 74 cents to 38 cents, they actually reduced it from 37 cents down to 1 cent.

The district’s total budget is approximately $10 million. Ironically, on February 18, 2009, an op ed piece posted on the Welcome Call, a local St. Louis news web site advocated passing the 36 cent reduction, calling it “real tax reform”. Whether “real tax reform” will l result in the district going bankrupt remains to be seen.

More in the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • The lawsuit, filed today in District Court in Dallas County, Texas, follows AHMSI

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