Stokes: Two cities, two markedly different approaches to property taxes | Guest columnists







Plaza Frontenac




It costs money to run cities, and that money comes from taxes. While governments at all levels waste that tax money to varying degrees, sometimes it is necessary to increase certain taxes to fund necessary services.

Right now in St. Louis County, two prominent suburbs have put property tax increase votes before their citizens in August. The first one is Clayton, the county seat and central business hub. The second one is Frontenac, a wealthy bedroom community with a major mall right in the center of St. Louis County.

Too often, governments try to export the costs of running their cities to outsiders with tourist taxes, sales taxes, special district taxes, and so on. In the cases of Clayton and Frontenac, the best thing you can say about the proposals is that they are property taxes that will be paid by the residents and businesses of their respective communities. Of course, the businesses don’t vote — only the residents do. But businesses and residents all benefit from effective police, properly equipped fire departments, and well-maintained roads.

There is one difference between the two proposals. That is, simply, the size of the proposed property tax increases. Clayton’s proposal is relatively modest, at 18 cents per $100 dollars of assessed valuation. While Clayton has very valuable buildings and beautiful homes for which even a low-percentage increase will mean real money, at least at this reasonable level of increase people can fairly weigh the costs and benefits to the proposal. (As a point of reference, a home worth $500,000 would have a $171 tax increase.) Nobody is getting hammered with radical tax increases. What’s more, residents and businesses will see the same rate increase. They will share in the costs and benefits of the proposal.

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