Board for Developmentally Disabled tax rate causes stir

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sater attempts to lower rate; board goes against

The Barry County Board for the Developmentally Disabled recently set its property tax rate at 0.07 percent, declining a proposal from State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, to lower it to 0.067 percent.

The state sets a maximum tax rate for the board, which is 0.0706 percent, and the board voted to keep the rate at 0.07 percent, which is the same as last year. Jim LeCompte, board president, cast a vote in favor of the same rate.

"I voted to keep there same rate because it is my belief we will need that funding available due to state and federal withholding funds to places like the Department of Mental Health," he said. "For the last several years, their funding has decreased and appropriations have dropped so much for the Joplin Regional Center that it will become a satellite office in Springfield and will no longer provides as many services."

LeCompte said the tax brought in about $315,000 last year, and a decreased in funding may be tough to overcome if the cuts continue.

A drop to 0.067 percent, Sater said, would result in a loss of about $15,000 in tax revenues.

Sater said the organization's breaking even last year was an anomaly, as it has been getting surpluses most years, and it has a little less than $1 million in the bank.

"I've been opting to lower this tax for about five years," he said. "When I started, we had $700,000 in the bank, and now, we're close to $1 million, and we just keep adding on to that every year. We have a lot of poor people that would like a tax break."

LeCompte said he could see a drop coming in the future if surpluses continue to stay at the current level.

"If we are able to maintain the amount of reserves, it's always possible to reduce the tax, but we also held it at 0.07 percent instead of going to the max of 0.0706, which is saving taxpayers money," he said. "It's not as much as Sater would like, but he has a constituency and may have other things on his agenda than the developmentally disabled."

Sater said he would like to go even further with the break, as he said the board should not need any more than $250,000 in the bank.

"I wouldn't mind if we had a quarter-million for possible emergencies or projects, but we've been talking about emergencies or building projects for the last 10 years, and none have come up," he said. "What I'd like to do is cut the tax to 0.03 or 0.04 percent and let the savings account gradually go down to $250,000, then reinstate the current tax rate if we need to."

Sater said some of the push back comes from fears that if the rate is lowered, the board will not be able to raise it back up again.

"I talked with Tom Schweich, [Missouri State Auditor], a couple years ago and have been assured if it is lowered, we can raise it back up," he said. "We are a poor area. We are not affluent, and just a $10 increase in taxes may make a difference as to whether or not someone can pay a heating bill."

LeCompte said the board has been a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and the surplus supports that.

"We've only made expenses that were necessary, and because we've been good stewards, we are able to maintain a balance to be able to help when it is requested from those in need," he said.

Sater has been a member of the Barry County Board for the Developmentally Disabled for about 10 years, and LeCompte has been president since its inception, more than 30 years ago. Board members are appointed by the Barry County Commission.

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