In November, it will be up to St. Charles County voters to decide the fate of a proposed property tax increase that would raise more money for programs to help seniors.
The proposal, however, did not get a ringing endorsement from several members of the St. Charles County Council, even though they voted 6-1 on June 27 to place the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. The measure now has a sunset clause – meaning it will be back up for renewal by voters every 10 years if it is passed.
If approved by a simple majority vote, Proposition S would establish a senior citizen’s service fund for persons 60 years or older. Funding would come from a five-cent property tax increase for each $100 in assessed valuation. Similar proposals may be on the ballot in St. Louis City and County.
The bill has been endorsed by Seniors Count of St. Louis, a coalition of more than 200 nonprofit, health care, religious and business organizations. Supporters from area major local social service agencies say the property tax increase would help a growing number of residents “age in place” – allowing them to receive services in their homes, rather than being sent to a care or nursing facility.
Council Chairman Joe Cronin [District 1], who voted to place the measure on the ballot, said he really opposed it.
“I don’t like this tax whatsoever,” he said. But he added that the state legislature has allowed senior funds to be voted on.
Senior funds are in place in 51 counties in Missouri but not in the St. Louis area.
“I think people should have the ability to vote this up or down, and I predict it will get voted down,” Cronin said. “But by the same token I do respect the right of the people of this county vote on an issue like that. That’s my two cents.”
Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2], who cast the lone “no” vote, like Cronin, questioned raising taxes.
“In the 16 years I’ve been on the council, we’ve never raised taxes,” Brazil said. He added that helping seniors isn’t a bad cause and probably isn’t something that can be easily opposed. “It’s like fighting against puppies, kids or seniors,” he said.
In an earlier meeting, Brazil had said that other organizations also are asking for tax increases, calling the measure a “slippery slope.” Putting the measure on the ballot implies support, he said, adding “I can’t do that sort of thing.”
Councilmember Terry Hollander [District 5],who brought the original bill before the council on June 13, adding the sunset clause on June 27 requiring voter reconsideration of the tax after 10 years if it passes the first time.
“I really believe, if the citizens and this board passes this, that within that period of time there will be an awful lot of really good things occurring,” Hollander said. “But I also believe in respect to the voters and the taxpayers that it should be re-examined after a period of time. I have no doubt and all the confidence in the world that this fund will be used in a very meaningful and good manner.”
County Executive Steve Ehlmann likened the 10-year sunset clause to a similar clause in effect for the county’s half-cent transportation sales tax that funds road projects. The tax was approved by voters in 1985.
“It’s good, we’ve had to go back and show the people exactly what they’ve gotten over the last ten years,” Ehlmann said. “And every time we’ve done that they’ve given us a higher number [vote] – I think it was 78 or 81 percent or something like that the last time.”
The tax increase would raise about $3.7 million to $4 million annually in the county. County Finance Director Robert Schnur said a five-cent increase may add about $19 annually to a home valued at $200,000.
Hollander said all the money raised stays local and would be administered by a local board with its members appointed by the county executive. Some of the funding would be allocated through grants to nonprofit agencies that provides specific services.
Jamie Opsal, project manager for Seniors Count of St. Louis, told councilmembers that seniors are living longer and their numbers are expected to increase substantially in next 15 years.
“We need all hands on deck, we need a little bit from churches, from taxes, from donations. We need all this help to support this huge senior tsunami that is coming,” Opsal said.
But at least one senior in the audience questioned paying more taxes.
“I don’t think that’s a good because were overtaxed already as senior citizens,” St. Charles resident Veronica Tigue said.