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Senior advocacy group makes pitch for property tax increase

The St. Charles County Council heard a pitch from a group seeking a property tax increase to provide more money for programs that provide assistance to seniors.

Jamie Opsal, project manager for Seniors Count of St. Louis, told council members at their April 11 meeting that the tax increase would help provide funds for a county whose population is aging.

Seniors 60 years and older are estimated to rise to more than 27 percent of its population in 14 years, she said.  That compares to 12 percent in 2000.

Opsal said the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis, which provides funding to nonprofit organizations providing senior services, discovered a Missouri statute on the books since 1990 that allows counties to place a “senior tax” on the ballot. The tax could be similar in some ways to the county’s Community Children’s Fund. But the senior fund would require voter approval of a property tax increase of 5 cents for each $100 in assessed valuation.

Opsal said that would equate to about $9.50 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home. The tax would generate about $4 million annually in the county.

More funding for housing, transportation, medical and food needs would help allow seniors to “age in place,” she said.

Opsal said Seniors Count is a coalition of more than 200 nonprofit, health care, religious and business organizations working to place similar measures on the ballot in the city of St. Louis, and St. Louis and St. Charles County.  Any tax increase has to be approved in each county and the city.

The St. Louis County Council agreed on April 12 to place a similar measure on that county’s November ballot. Similar senior funds are already in place in 51 Missouri counties but have never been introduced in the St. Louis area, Opsal said.

Representatives from various organizations also spoke in favor of the effort.  Miriam Mahan, executive director for Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, one of the largest nonprofit social service providers in the county, said more funding is needed to provide services, particularly among low-income seniors.  “There are no options for seniors,” Mahan said.

The council took no action on the request.

County Councilman Joe Cronin [District 1] questioned how seniors are being helped by raising their property taxes.

“We’ve got older people trying to stay in their homes anyway,” he said. “It’s like a catch-22; you’re going to give them extra services but you are going to charge them more taxes,” Cronin said.

Many seniors are moving out of the county because of higher taxes, he added.

Councilman Joe Brazil [District 2] said the request for tax increases from a variety of institutions, ranging from the St. Louis Zoo to local school districts, is rising.

“I’m not saying I’m opposed, I’m just saying when it’s not just you it’s everybody else standing in line for more money,” Brazil said.

Councilman Terry Hollander [District 5] said all the money raised stays local and would be administered by a local board with its members appointed by the county executive.

The county has two similar boards now. The Community and Children’s Resource Board administers funding for the children’s fund. The  Developmental Disabilities Resource Board provides funding for agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities. Each board administers funding in a similar way very successfully, Hollander said. The boards review agency funding requests from agencies providing services.

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