About 20 citizens crammed into the meeting room in the first-floor room of the Christian County Historic Courthouse where the county commission regularly conducts its business.
They came from different parts of Christian County, and they were all concerned about their property taxes.
The Christian County Commission voted 3-0 to set the property tax levy for Christian County’s general revenue at 0.0622 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase from 0.0540 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. A public notice that circulated in the Christian County Headliner News prior to the meeting Aug. 20 had some taxpayers alarmed that their yearly statements would show a total increase of 22 percent.
“I think there is some clarification that needs to be addressed, first of all. This is a perfect example of how powerful words are. There is an old saying that words kill,” Presiding Commissioner Ralph Phillips said.
The levy, which has a ceiling but generally fluctuates year-to-year, is also determined by the amount of sales tax revenue that Christian County collects. It doesn’t impact the bottom line, but the amount of property tax that the average Christian County property owner pays to one of the 11 different itemized tax levies they are subject to.
Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu said that some confusion lies with the way the property tax levy adjustment appeared in a legal advertisement. It’s not a new tax, but an adjustment to a tax that has been on the books in Christian County for more than two decades.
“It was voted on in 1996, and I’m looking at it. It passed 9,588 to 8,801. So this is the tax, and it’s not a new tax, it’s an adjustment of the levy. The adjustment of the levy is required by the vote of the people,” Bilyeu said.
Some of the property owners at the hearing said they were still against a levy adjustment.
“Even if it’s going to increase just a penny, I’m against it,” Mike Sullivan of Rogersville told the commissioners. “We’re just overtaxed.”
Ozark resident Darrell Tonsing thanked Bilyeu for his explanation, but asked the commissioners to be sensitive about even slight tax increases.
“People generally want to pay their taxes, they want to support schools and they want to do things for the county, but when it becomes so great of an increase—any little thing like this, it’s like, ‘What? Again?’” Tonsing said. “People are very sensitive about this.”
So, what does it cost?
Bilyeu used himself as an example to show how the levy stands to impact taxpayers in 2020.
In 2019, Bilyeu himself paid a total of $1,995.68 in property taxes. Bilyeu thinks that some people saw the legal advertisement about the levy hearing an envisioned a flat 22-percent increase, meaning that he would have to pay $2,394.82 in 2020, an increase of $399.14.
“There’s 11 entities that get your tax dollars, and we’re just a small portion of that,” Bilyeu said.
Christian County got $16.48 of Bilyeu’s money in 2019. The remaining money went to other taxing entities that the Christian County Commission has no control over, such as school districts, fire protection districts and road districts.
Bilyeu said he paid more than $1,400 to Nixa Public Schools, “which I’m happy to do, by the way.”
Continuing to use himself as an example, Bilyeu calculated that his own property taxes will go up $3.78 as a result of the levy adjustment voted on Aug. 20.
“It’s on that tiny little portion of your receipt,” Bilyeu said. “That’s not because we decided to raise the tax, the tax was passed by the people in 1996, and we are carrying out that instruction, and we must do so.”
Anyone with a history of paying property taxes in Christian County can search for and examine exactly how their personal property taxes break down by following the link at http://christiancountycollector.com. You can then use the information from previous tax statements to calculate how much more you will pay to Christian County general revenue at the end of 2020.
The history from 1996
Christian County Clerk Kay Brown explained that long ago, the Christian County Commission agreed to roll back property tax levies so that the amount of money collected through property tax would not exceed half of the county’s estimated sales tax revenue.
“My job is I’m the messenger,” Brown said.
By law, the bulk of Christian County’s general revenue has to come from sales tax, and in 2020, sales tax totals have been short.
Christian County residents enjoyed a levy reduction in 2019, which the commission voted on in a meeting that barely anyone attended. In 2019, the commissioners voted to set the levy at 0.0540 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, in accordance with the law from 1996. The move also kept Christian County in compliance with the Missouri Hancock Amendment, a state law passed in 1980 which limits state taxation and requires new taxes to be approved by voters in any given political subdivision.
On Aug. 20, 2020, the county commission also voted 3-0 to set the tax levy for the Common 1 Road District at $0.1026. The levy was previously $0.1049 in 2018. They also voted 3-0 to set the Common 2 Road District levy at $0.
The Common 1 Road District in Christian County starts east of Ozark and encompasses areas that are not part of the Ozark, South Sparta or Garrison special road districts. It includes areas such as Lindenlure, Oldfield, Chadwick, Elkhead and Bruner. Eastern District Commissioner Mike Robertson oversees Common 1 as part of his official duties.
The Common 2 Road District encompasses central and western parts of Christian County. Its levy is set at $0. Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu oversees Common 2. In order for Common 2 to start imposing a property tax levy again, the county commission would need approval from a ballot measure.
Even though the levy is at zero, the commissioners still had to vote to keep it at zero.
The county commission does not control property tax levies for entities such as library districts, the county health department, ambulance districts, fire protection districts, school districts or senior citizen services.