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Senior property tax proposal one step closer to November ballot

A proposed property tax increase to provide more money for programs help to seniors is a step closer to being placed on the November ballot in St. Charles County.

The St. Charles County Council gave a first reading to a bill at its June 13 meeting that would place a 5-cent property tax increase for each $100 in assessed valuation on the Nov. 8 ballot.  If approved by a simple majority, “Proposition S” would establish a senior citizen’s services fund for persons age 60 and older.

The bill has been endorsed by representatives of major local social service agencies who say it would provide funding to help a growing number of aging county residents “age in place” – allowing them to stay in their homes longer rather than be sent to a care or nursing facility.

“We cannot dismiss the fact that our population of senior citizens is growing immensely,” said Flora Fazio, a representative of Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, during a public comment period at the meeting. Not helping seniors stay in their homes longer lessens their quality of life and may ultimately cost society more, Fazio and other supporters say.

Seniors are living longer and studies project the population of seniors age 60 and older to increase by over 100,000 in the region in the next 15 years, she said.

But some councilmembers had some reservations about the proposal.

“I struggle with this a little bit to be frank with you, but I kind of believe in letting the citizens make their own decision on this,” Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] said. Cronin said he has aging parents and knows the issues surrounding their care.  “But I have a hard time telling them I’m supporting a property tax [increase] to help them.”

Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] also said he was unsure of his support largely because of requests for tax increases proposals – suggested by a number of institutions, ranging from the St. Louis Zoo to local school districts – is rising.

Councilmember Terry Hollander [District 5], who sponsored the bill, said all the money raised stays local and would be administered by a local board with its members appointed by the county executive.  The funding would keep seniors in their homes and enhance their quality of life, he said.

Two existing county boards – the Community and Children’s Resource Board [CCRB] and Developmental Disabilities  Resources Board [DDRB] – each administer funding in a similar way successfully, Hollander said.

The CCRB provides funding for children and family services, and the DDRB supports programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. Their board members are appointed by the county executive and they review funding requests from agencies providing services.

The tax increase proposal was brought before the county in April by Seniors Count of St. Louis, a coalition of more than 200 nonprofit, health care, religious and business organizations that has been working to place similar measures on the ballot in St. Louis City and County.  Any tax increase has to be approved in each county and the city.

Jamie Opsal, project manager for Seniors Count of St. Louis, told St. Charles County councilmembers during the public comment portion of the meeting on June 13 and at an April 11 meeting that the tax increase would provide funding for transportation, home improvements and for helping families deal with seniors with dementia.

The tax increase would raise about $3.7 million to $4 million annually in the county, Opsal and county officials have said. County Finance Director Robert Schnur said a 5-cent increase may add about $19 in taxes annually on a home valued at $200,000.

Cronin said he was good with letting voters decide but said he may not support placing a similar measure on the ballot a second time if it fails in November.

“This shouldn’t be like the tax issues in the school districts that keep coming around and around and around,” Cronin said. “Let’s give it one shot and I hope you folks do the job and tell voters why this is needed so badly.”

The council could take action to approve placing the measure on the November ballot at its next meeting, scheduled for Monday, June 27.

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