JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Supreme Court recently upheld multi-county tax assessments that some have claimed to be discriminatory.
The plaintiffs, all St. Louis County landowners, claimed that they were being forced to pay more in property taxes than Franklin and Jefferson County residents who owned property of similar value. This is because these counties are consistently undervaluing their property, according to the plaintiffs.
“In Missouri, there are many property owners propping up the multi-county taxing authorities,” Bruce Morrison, counsel for a plaintiff in the case, told The St. Louis Record.
According to the complaint, the “non-uniformity” in these multi-county taxing authorities constitutes discrimination that is unconstitutional and needs to be rectified. The St. Louis County Circuit Court disagreed, stating the plaintiffs have “failed to state a claim,” and now the Supreme Court has affirmed.
The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision because the Missouri Constitution only demands that taxes be uniform and not property values.
“The uniformity clause in section 3, therefore, does not apply to valuations, nor does it impose any obligations or limitations on authorities responsible for valuing or assessing property,” the court wrote in its opinion.
Additionally, the court found the plaintiffs unable to prove that the assessments met the standard for discrimination outlined by case precedent, in which the assessor engaged in “an intentional plan of discrimination” or undervalued the property to the extent “as to be entirely inconsistent with an honest exercise of judgment.”
For those who saw the lawsuit as a means of rectifying a societal wrong, the ruling is a big blow.
“What he was really interested in was that these taxing jurisdictions were properly funded,” Morrison said of his client. “We think the court missed a big opportunity here.”
Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the way multi-county jurisdictions collect property taxes will change anytime soon. For the plaintiffs, that means some people will continue to pay a disproportionate share of taxes and institutions will be inadequately funded.
“We’re not optimistic,” Morrison said when asked if this problem will ever be rectified. “[It’s] a race to the bottom. We’re only getting worse here in Missouri, schools are not getting funded.”