Saturday, October 07, 2006

Casino Property Taxes Can Be Lowered By Gaming Commission

By Phyllis Schaltenbrand

At the September 26th joint meeting of the City Council and St. Charles School Board, matters concerning both the district and the City at large were discussed. Several council members including Councilman Riddler and Koester as well as, Councilwoman Greer expressed frustration that local grade schools are slated for shuttering after the 2006-2007 school year.
According to school board members, Missouri ranks 46th in state funding of K-12 education. State legislators failed to pass a school-funding formula that would better fund local schools resulting in the financial burden being transferred to local homeowners by way of property taxes.
Most St. Charles residents believed that placing a riverboat gaming casino here would help guarantee local schools’ financial stability, however, the school board also pointed out that the casinos can appeal their local assessment to the State Gaming Commission. The Gaming Commission can vote to assess the casino property at a lower level, thereby, cutting the casino’s property taxes that are most beneficial to our local schools. It could be argued that the St. Charles School District has lost thousands of dollars yearly due to such low, inaccurate assessments of casino property.

Contributing further to frustration by both council and school board alike is the inequity of state funding on the local level. If the St. Charles School District would simply receive the same funding amounts per student as Francis Howell and Fort Zumwalt School Districts, $3 Million more would flow into our city school district annually.
School board member, Wayne Oetting stated that the State of Missouri considers the St. Charles School District a “wealthy” district, which has resulted in lower funding levels. In fact, if the district were not a hold-harmless district, Oetting pointed out that school-funding levels would be lower still. Oetting commented that he never felt that St. Charles was a wealthy district, but rather an average district. Apparently, the state disagrees.
The St. Charles City R-VI School District plans on moving its main offices to Benton after the current school year. Benton is the oldest operational school in St. Charles and has been educating our youth since 1896. Its closing means that school children in the northern parts of the City will have greater distance between their homes and their “local” school.
Councilwoman Greer voiced her opinion that closing schools was premature because our city is aging and in the coming years many young families will be buying homes previously occupied by older residents. Councilman Riddler pointed out that entry-level priced homes in the county are right here in St. Charles and that young families will turn to St. Charles City for their first home if we can provide neighborhood schools that offer smaller class sizes close to home.
Councilman Koester commented to the First Capitol News, “Missourians were first told that the lottery would save our schools. Then casinos would be such a great boon. In reality, every gaming dollar that came into the front door for our schools was taken out through the back door by state legislators.”