Property Tax Hike In St. Joseph School District Crushed At Polls

Nov 7, 2017

A 38 percent property tax hike lost big in the St. Joseph School District Tuesday night.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

In an election that was all about trust, it's clear the St. Joseph School District does not have it with voters.

A proposed 38 percent property tax hike, which the district says it needs to stop eating into its reserve funds went down big--72 percent voted no, 28 percent voted yes.

The proposal would have raised an additional $11.5 million a year and cost the owner of an $80,000 house an extra $220 a year.

The levy increase was backed by some of the biggest businesses in St. Joseph, the local NEA chapter and the Chamber of Commerce.

"We should all understand that the outcome does nothing to resolve the challenges facing our school district," Pat Dillon and Kristie Arthur, co-chairs of the vote yes campaign said in a statement. "Make no mistake at some point additional funding will be necessary."

Few believe that the district doesn't need more money. Without additional revenue, St. Joseph schools will probably fall below the 20 percent reserve threshold board policy calls for and the state recommends.

Former board member Chris Danford, who headed the opposition to the levy increase, called for a tax hike about half the size of the one that was defeated Tuesday. The opposition also wanted a sunset clause on any increase.

Danford said the district has not earned back the trust of patrons. But, she says, there is now a chance for all sides to come up with a better plan. "It's an opportunity for folks to get it right and to move forward with the right plan for students and for the community," she says.

A lot of money was spent on this election. The supporters of the hike raised $128,000, much of that from some of the biggest employers in St. Joseph, according to Missouri Ethics Commission campaign fiance reports.

The opposition drew most of its money from one mega-donor, libertarian Stan Herzog. He donated $60,000 to the fight the tax hike, $20,000 in just the last four days.

So now the school board must go back to the drawing board and decide whether it wants to put another levy increase on the ballot and, if so, when to do it. Should the board decide to put a different tax hike on the ballot it would have two choices, next April or next August.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.