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St. Louis County will freeze senior citizen property taxes

St. Louis County Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, District 2, left, and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page attend meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, District 2, left, and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page attend a meeting on Aug. 22 at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building in Clayton.

Updated Nov. 1 with County Executive Sam Page's decision

A property tax freeze for St. Louis County senior citizens will go into effect.

County Executive Sam Page took until Wednesday, the last day of his review period, to announce his decision on what the county council passed last month.

Page said that while he’s letting the measure become law by not vetoing it, he has major concerns with the state law that allows for such freezes.

“I support tax-relief for seniors, and that bill will become law,” Page said. “I did not sign that bill because the state-legislation is fundamentally flawed and I expect we’ll be talking about it for a while and I hope the legislature will work in the coming session to fix that.”

Page and others have said allowing for property tax freezes could make it more difficult for cities, counties and school districts to pay for basic services.

The St. Louis County Council voted to send the bill to Page after it was rewritten to include a cap on homes worth more than $550,000.

Original story from Oct. 17:

After several months of starts and stops, the St. Louis County Council gave final approval Tuesday to a senior property tax freeze — a move proponents say will end up providing a break to homeowners amid rising costs.

Republican Councilman Dennis Hancock’s revised legislation would only apply to people who live in a home that is worth $550,000 or less. And only people who are 67 and older would be eligible. It would also only last for five years — which means the council would have to review the benefit.

“The Republicans gave you everything that you said you wanted and needed last summer,” said Dennis Ganahl of Missouri Tax Relief Now, a group that’s been pushing for senior property tax freezes around the state. “You said that you need a means test, you've got a means test. They've increased the age by five years. You've got everything that you need to justify a vote for yes tonight.”

Ultimately, council members voted 4-2 to pass the freeze. Republicans Mark Harder and Ernie Trakas and Democrat Rita Days joined with Hancock to vote yes. Democrats Shalonda Webb and Kelli Dunaway voted against the bill. Lisa Clancy was absent.

“This is also not a perfect bill,” Hancock said. “First of all, the legislature didn't give us a perfect bill to start with. But in my opinion, we cannot wait for them to make corrections. If they do, great. If they do not, then we will have lost precious time for our seniors.”

Days, who voted against the bill in July, said she decided to back it this time because Hancock promised to offer up legislation to repeal it if some of the changes were struck down in court.

“And so, I’m trusting his word,” said Days, D-Bel Nor.

Webb, though, said she was concerned that if any part of the bill was successfully challenged in court, it would then apply to all seniors and not just people who live in homes that are worth $550,000 or less.

Webb said she would have preferred to have a one-year sunset. She also said she was worried how the bill would affect school and fire protection districts.

“I know you all want a headline,” Webb said. “The Republicans care, the Democrats don't, it's not that easy. Everybody, the whole policy needs to be looked at.”

Among other arguments, backers of the bill said that Jackson County also put a limit on which homes could be affected under the tax freeze. And in addition to noting that the bill will remain in place unless someone successfully challenges it in court, Hancock said that “sometimes in the legislative process, you have to do things to get a bill passed.”

“This is a case for me where half a loaf is better than none at all,” Hancock said. “The people who will benefit from this will agree with that sentiment — that it’s worth it to them.”

Harder said, “I think the concessions that were put forward were good ones and ones that addressed a lot of issues that the council had with this bill.”

A spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he will review the bill and make a decision on whether he’ll sign or veto it in the next two weeks.

Earlier this year, the Missouri General Assembly approved a measure allowing counties to freeze certain senior property taxes. In order to qualify, a property owner would have to be eligible for Social Security.

The council rejected legislation enacting the freeze in July, with some opponents citing that fact that it would apply to all property owners — including seniors who live in expensive homes.

Lauren Brennecke is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio and a recent graduate of Webster University.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.