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Tax proposals win in Florissant, Mehlville; go down in Kirkwood, Berkeley

Bill Greenblatt | UPI | 2012 photo

Updated 12:36 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 with comments from the Kirkwood School District. Voters in locations throughout St. Louis had a variety of issues to decide at the polls Tuesday, including a special election for a state House district.

Mehlville schools got support for a tax hike, while Kirkwood’s efforts were defeated. The Mehlville proposition will raise rates by 49 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. It passed with 17,905 for and 6,783 against. The Kirkwood measure would have added 78 cents to the school levy. It went down 6,884 to 4,776.

Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines said the victory came about because the district "laid out a strong case over the last year" that was backed by parents: "This was a parent driven effort." The district, which is in southeastern St. Louis County, will now follow that plan, Gaines said, adding that the finance committee will be asked to keep the schools accountable.

In Kirkwood, the district wanted to increase property taxes by 78 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.  For example, a house appraised at $250,000 would see an approximate increase in real estate tax of $370 beginning with the 2016 tax year, according to the district.

Officials campaigned for the increase saying that the extra money was needed to maintain high standards, small class sizes, attract and retain top talent and keep step with growing enrollment.

Opponents questioned that reasoning. 

Martin Bennet is treasurer of Tax Fairly, which campaigned against the increase. He said it would have been especially hard on seniors living on fixed incomes. 

“If you need to have more tax money, you need to do a better job of defining where the gaps are, give some kind of budget,” Bennet said. “They didn’t do that. They just said, 'Give us $10.4 million and trust us.' Well, almost 60 percent of tax payers said, ‘No, we don’t.’ We would suggest that they have a tighter budget if they do indeed need more in revenue, which we question at this point.”

Bennet also questioned whether the money was needed to increase salaries in the district. The average teacher salary in Kirkwood is $69,322 a year. Administrators make an average of $ 139,482 a year.

Opponents of the tax also said that property values keep going up in Kirkwood, and therefore the district is already bringing in more money. But Ginger Cayce, spokeswoman for the Kirkwood School District, said that wasn’t true. She pointed to the Hancock Amendment which limits the amount of increased revenue a district can receive when property values go up, as they did last year.  According to the district, it was only able to increase revenue from property taxes by less than 1 percent last year.

She also said that comparatively high salaries in the district were a result of low teacher turnover, with more experienced teachers making more money as they climbed the pay scale.

“We want to recruit and retain high quality teachers, and you see that happening in Kirkwood” Cayce said. “We want to be able to maintain that … Experience matters in every field, and education is no different.”

It is possible that class sizes could be increased because of an uptick in enrollment, Cayce said, but that wouldn’t happen this school year. She said the Kirkwood School Board may begin considering a class size increase in January.   

Replacing Diehl

The central St. Louis County House district of former House Speaker John Diehl stayed in Republican hands. Dean Plocher defeated Democrat Al Gerber in the special election to replace Diehl, who resigned after sexually suggestive texts to an intern became public.

Voters chose to make Village Hills and Bel-Ridge fourth-class cities, which will allow the towns to levy new taxes. And Florissant residents approved a tax increase for streets.

Meanwhile, Berkeley residents rejected eight charter amendments largely aimed at increasing the power of the mayor and city council. Voters there also rejected a tax hike for police and fire pensions.

Donna Korando contributed to this article.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.