Missouri lawmakers clarify confusion to let more counties freeze property taxes for seniors

Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City Missouri

The Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City, Mo. | Photo courtesy of Missouri Independent

Missouri lawmakers gave counties a dose of much-needed clarity in May when they passed a bill aimed at clarifying a 2023 law that lets counties pass a senior property tax freeze, aimed at those 62 and older.

The law passed last year gave counties the power to freeze property tax rates for Missourians who were eligible for Social Security. But the law left room for interpretation — and confusion. For instance, it didn’t include an outline for how counties should go about the freeze or who would qualify.

Counties weren’t sure how to interpret “eligible for Social Security.” Did that mean 62 and older? What about people on pensions, like retired teachers or railroad workers? Were they out of luck?

Some counties thought an annual application would be required, and others wanted to put a cap on home values eligible for the tax break.

As a result, only the state’s larger counties have been bold enough to pass the freeze. Jackson, Platte and Clay counties passed the freeze in the Kansas City area, while St. Louis, St. Charles and Greene counties have passed the freeze in other parts of the state.

In the meantime, smaller counties took a wait-and-see approach — seeing what the General Assembly might yet do and measuring the potential impact on what a freeze would mean for  libraries and school and fire districts.

Lawmakers answered some of those questions this year with a bill sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Platte County Republican who backed the original bill giving counties the power to freeze rates for seniors.

They also conceded that the freeze law would likely need future updates. But Luetkemeyer, pointing to legislative gridlock, suggested that lawmakers delay making more changes to the bill because it was already so far along in the process.

The clarification bill has yet to be signed by Gov. Mike Parson.

What answers does the bill provide for Missouri’s senior tax freeze?

Counties were largely unsure which property owners could qualify for the freeze. Initially, the bill said that Missourians eligible for Social Security would be able to receive the freeze.

But counties were afraid to open themselves up to lawsuits depending on how they interpreted that language. So lawmakers clarified that part of the bill by changing the language to Missourians 62 and older.

The senior property tax freeze came amid property tax assessments that shocked many Missourians. The 2024 bill also clarified that the freeze wouldn’t work in reverse. If the assessed value of property dropped, so would the tax bill even if the owner had benefited from the freeze.

The bill also makes clear homeowners who are behind on their property taxes won’t be eligible for the freeze until they catch up payments. It also clarifies that if homeowners make improvements that raise the assessed value of their home, their rate will be increased to reflect those improvements.

Previous language also allowed for county residents to petition to pass the freeze if local officials don’t enact it. The new bill would let counties go back and tweak their programs without voter approval.

It also gives counties full control over how to tailor their property tax freezes.

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