CHARLESTON - Mississippi County Assessor W.R. "Bill" Thompson once again asked commissioners to pass an ordinance that puts into effect a Missouri statute reducing property tax on structures vacated due to natural disasters - but there's no rush this time.
"Take the statute, read the statute," said Thompson during Thursday's county commission meeting. "Think about it."
Thompson first pitched the ordinance to commissioners during the Nov. 8 county commission meeting hoping to have it in effect for 2002.
Presently, the assessor determines taxable property by what is owned as of Jan. 1. Someone who owns a building that is destroyed on Jan. 2, however, would still be taxed for the full year based on the Jan. 1 assessment.
Under the terms of the statute, the assessed value is reduced by 20 percent on properties vacated due to a natural disaster, according to Thompson. If a structure burns in the middle of the month and can not be occupied, the provision takes effect on the first day of the following month and remains in force until the structure is occupied again.
The statute only applies to a vacancy by natural disaster and is only applicable for real estate and not personal property.
The flip side of the statute, according to Thompson, is that any newly-built buildings occupied during the year go "on the books" when occupied instead of waiting to appear on assessment lists on Jan. 1.
Of the four factors which can be used to determine if a structure is occupied or not, the most practical determination of when a new structure is occupied is when the contractor's temporary utility meter is replaced with a standard meter.
The statute requires utility companies to notify the assessor as soon as a meter goes in.
The ordinance was passed by commissioners at the Nov. 8 meeting, but they reversed their decision at the next meeting stating the statute was not adequately explained to them.
Commissioners voiced concerns during that meeting over the part of the statute which increases the amount withheld at the collector's office for the reassessment operating fund from 1 percent to 1.1 percent.
Commissioners repeated their concern Thursday that as there may not be enough new construction in the county to offset the loss to the various political subdivisions, the statute may end up taking money from school district funds.
"I have to look out for the county and schools as well," said Jim Blumenberg, presiding commissioner.
Commissioners also had questions on whether the statute applies only to residential buildings or if it includes commercial structures. If commercial buildings are included, commissioners have questions about how occupancy is determined for businesses.
Thompson acknowledged he rushed his presentations last year because he hoped to have the statute in effect for 2002. This time, however, commissioners have plenty of time to research the statute and can pass the ordinance any time before the end of the year if they wish to have it in effect for 2003.
Thompson said that even though the statute would increase the workload on his office, it is more fair than taxing residents who lose their structures to a natural disaster. "It's just the right thing to do," he said.