Officials Differ over Applying New Tax Law

Article excerpt

St. Charles County Assessor Gene Zimmerman and state Rep. Ted House, D-St. Charles, are at odds over the interpretation of a new state law that may affect the time when new houses are taxed.

The dispute has school officials in the county and heads of other taxing entities concerned about one of their sources of income.

The original occupancy tax law allowed a county, upon approval of voters, to put new homes on the tax rolls as soon as they became occupied. In 1990, county voters gave overwhelming approval to the measure, which became effective the next year.

Up until that time, new homes were not assessed or taxed until Jan. 1 of the year after the house was occupied. In its first year, the occupancy tax added more than $13 million in assessed valuation to the county tax rolls.

So far, St. Charles County has been the only county in the state to enact the occupancy tax.

The law was changed this year by the Legislature. The revision, said Zimmerman, was to make it easier for other counties to adopt the same kind of law. One of the changes is that a county's governing body - such as a council or a commission - can establish the law without submitting it for approval by the voters.

In Zimmerman's view, this part of the revised state law nullified St. Charles County's occupancy tax. "By mistake," he said, "the Legislature wiped off the right of people to vote on the tax. So they wiped the law off the books in St. Charles County on Aug. 28," the date the revised law went into effect.

For that reason, Zimmerman said he is no longer putting newly occupied new houses on the tax rolls. Zimmerman contends that the Missouri Tax Commission agrees with his interpretation. "For the moment, I have no law to go with," he said.

But House disagrees. He is a lawyer and introduced the original bill in the Legislature in 1990.

"I disagree with Mr. Zimmerman's interpretation of the law," House said. "There should be no change in the way he assesses for occupancy . . . There is no change that affects St. Charles County. The assessments should continue." In reaching his opinion, House said he had consulted with the Legislature's legal staff.

House asserted that Zimmerman "has never liked this law and he has made it clear from the beginning that he would fight it anyway he could." House said the occupancy law "has been very beneficial to a rapidly growing county, and it was overwhelmingly adopted by the people. …