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Seniors support initiative petition after Boone County delays property tax freeze

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Boone County has the option to choose not to implement the freeze, partly implement it, or fully put it in place.

BOONE COUNTY— While the Boone County Commission is still deciding whether to implement a law that freezes property tax rate increases for senior citizens, one Missouri state representative is through with waiting.

Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate bill 190 into law on July 6. The bill, which takes effect Aug. 28, allows counties the opportunity to freeze property tax increases for senior citizens who meet these requirements:

  • 62 years of age or older 
  • Eligible for Social Security retirement benefits
  • Own a home or have legal/equitable interest in a home
  • Required to pay property taxes on that home

Senior citizens who meet these requirements would still have to pay property taxes, but it would be a fixed amount based off of how much the taxes were when frozen.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, approximately 14% of Boone County residents are 65 or older and could be eligible for the tax relief.

Under the law, the Boone County Commission can choose not to implement the freeze, partially implement it or fully put it in place for those of age for social security benefit.

One of the big controversies around the law is the impact it could have on the public entities that rely on property tax income, like school districts or fire protection districts.

"It's going to have more of an impact on fire protection districts and school districts across Boone County who are property tax reliant, who get the majority of their revenue through property taxes," said Boone County Presiding Commissioner Kip Kendrick.

While five counties around the state have already exercised some aspect of the freeze, the commission said it is still in the information gathering phase. The commission asked all of the taxing entities across Boone County to provide them with a fiscal analysis on how the law would impact them, but it has not heard back from all of them yet.

"[We're] still waiting to hear back from some, and don't feel comfortable making such a big decision without getting a full understanding of the picture," Kendrick said.

The entities that have already responded, like the Hallsville School District, said the impact would be significant.

"We received an estimate from them that they may see a reduction up to $240,000 of revenue a year," Kendrick said.

Although Kendrick said that is just an estimate, it's a sign of concern for other school districts, like Columbia Public Schools, which is the largest beneficiary, receiving around 80% of the revenue collected from property taxes.

But some citizens are tired of waiting.

Rep. Cheri Toalson-Reisch, R-Hallsville, is pushing an initiative petition to get the freeze on the 2024 ballot in August. Toalson-Reisch said she started the petition on Aug. 29th, the day after the law went into effect.

Toalson-Reisch needs to get 5% of Boone County's voter population to sign the petition. According to Toalson-Reisch, she only needs to receive around 4600 signatures, and is about a quarter of the way there.

"We have well over 1000 signatures, but, with the push right now I have about 50 volunteers helping me and we're going to events and our friends and our families and our churches to get them to sign," Toalson-Reisch said.

Toalson-Reisch said the petition is giving the power back to the people and letting them decide.

Another obstacle with the law is that there is a lot of confusion regarding eligibility, according to the Boone County Commission.

"There are other gray areas in the law as well on just who is eligible, the age of which someone is eligible, the fact that a plain letter reading of the law would mean you would have to be eligible for Social Security benefits," Kendrick said. "Well, as we talked, there are many entities impacted by this law who their retirees wouldn't even be eligible for because they don't pay into Social Security."

Although Toalson-Reisch agrees there may be some ambiguity when it comes to the writing of the law, she said she ultimately feels moving forward with the property tax freeze is the right thing to do.

"We have to help our senior citizens," Toalson-Reisch said. "You have to understand that they get a monthly Social Security check, they're on a fixed income, and they don't get pay raises to keep up with inflation."

On average, Boone County residents’ real property evaluations went up 8% this year.

Bonnie Lee, 71, has lived in Columbia for over 30 years. She said she's worried about continuing to pay taxes on her home.

"If my taxes continue as they are, we lived in Columbia for almost 39 years now, that I would have paid enough taxes to almost pay again for my home," Lee said.

Lee is a supporter of the petition and has already added her signature.

Toalson-Reisch will have to get turn in the 4,600 signatures to the Boone County Commission and have it certified before August in order to get it on the ballot.

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