County Faces Lawsuit Over Road and Bridge Tax Levy
By Mike Scott
Clark County is facing a lawsuit from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office over its longstanding 35-cent Special Road and Bridge Tax levy. The levy has been in place for at least 24 years, according to County Clerk Leih Ann Hayden, and was re-authorized by county voters by an 882-486 margin in the August elections.
The problem is that State Auditor Susan Montee’s office will not certify the ballot because the $0.35 per $100 dollars valuation was in excess of the applicable lawful limit of $0.0035.
Hayden was notified on August 14 that the proposed levy was in excess, and at that time given 15 days to respond to the Auditor accepting the reduced rate, or supply the Auditor with additional information to “substantiate her further consideration.” No response was received by the Auditor.
Section 137.073.6 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri require that the State Auditor refer to the Attorney General any taxing authority that, within that 15 day period, fails to lower its illegal proposed levy or justify certification at a higher rate. The statute also requires the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief to prevent the tax from being levied at the illegally high rate.
On October 7, Hayden received a letter from the Attorney General’s office giving their notice of intent to initiate litigation on the issue. According to Hayden, the County Commissioners have retained an attorney through the Missouri Association of Counties to fight the matter.
“This levy amount was passed by our voters several times in the past 25 years,” said Hayden. “I have the letters showing it has been certified by previous auditors.”
What’s the impact on the county if they cannot continue to collect the additional 35-cent per $100 tax? It would cut the local revenue for the Road and Bridge Department by more than half, dramatically affecting the operations.
“We wouldn’t have any money for rock, fuel, heating, electricity or telephones,” said Hayden. “People need to have rock for their roads. They need their bridges taken care of. We need this money, and the voters have approved it.”
The situation also leaves County Collector Twila Harper in a quandary. Harper needs to print tax statements, but will need to separate the 35-cent levy in question on the statements. According to Harper, the money collected will need to deposited into an escrow account until the lawsuit is settled, meaning that the county will not be able to spend that money. The cost and availability of a programmer is unknown at this time, and therefore tax statements will be delayed by at least two weeks.
Further, Harper wants to consult with Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Summers about how she should proceed before she does anything.
Hayden has placed the 35-cent levy on the ballot again in November, in an effort to potentially prove to the courts that the voters understand and approve of the levy.
“We need people to vote for this levy. It’s exactly the same thing you’ve approved before, we’re just cleaning up the ballot language. It will be the last item on the last page of the ballot,” Hayden said.
“It’s a mess. But we can’t un-do what is done, and we have to go forward,” Hayden said.