Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
Unlike most special purpose districts, fire protection districts have numerous options as to services they may offer and taxes they may levy to support those services. Most districts, such as ambulance, school, drainage and road districts, have one operating levy. If they have bonded indebtedness, they can use an additional debt-service levy. Fire protection districts may have numerous operating levies. Each requires voter approval and stands permanently, though it must be recalculated every odd-numbered year. The fire district’s regular levy options are outlined in the following table. Bonded indebtedness, which requires an additional debt-service levy, is covered below under Long-term debt and bond issues.
|Maximum||Rate||Authorization in Statutes (RSMo.)|
|Basic rate||30¢/$100 assessed||321.240|
|Firefighter pensions||10¢/$100 assessed||321.240|
|Added ambulance||40¢/$100 assessed||321.225|
|Added basic||10¢/$100 assessed||321.240|
|Added basic||25¢/$100 assessed||321.241|
|Added basic||10¢/$100 assessed||321.241 (after 8/13/82)|
|Added basic||25¢/$100 assessed||321.241 (after 9/28/85)|
|Added basic||50¢/$100 assessed||321.241|
|Emergency dispatch||3¢/$100 assessed||321.243.1|
|Added dispatch||2¢/$100 assessed||321.243.3 (St. Charles only)|
|Rollback exemption||Reverts to maximum||321.244 (odd-numbered years only)|
All of the above levies require approval by a simple majority of voters. Bond issues (long-term indebtedness) require either two-thirds or four-sevenths voter approval (66.7 percent or 57.1 percent), depending upon the election date.
Before a tax can be levied, the board must set the rate in a properly announced public session. The secretary must certify this to the county clerk (or clerks for districts that cross county lines) before Sept. 1. Timing is crucial in order to get the rate extended on tax bills for the current year (321.250). Whatever rate is set and approved by the voters is levied against all real and personal taxable property assessed in the county or counties that lies within the district.
Under the constitutional requirement, each year’s assessed valuation must be compared with that of the prior year. With new construction and improvements excluded, to the extent valuation exceeds last year’s plus the federally calculated cost of living, the rate must be reduced to produce the same revenue as before, plus whatever amount new construction adds. New construction figures are furnished by the county (Missouri Constitution, Article X, Section 22).
If the assessed valuation increased, the district must also make a second calculation. A tax-rate ceiling is established by statute (137.073). This is capped at either the most recent voter-approved rate or the rate that was levied in 1984. The intent is to provide no more revenue from the new assessed valuation than was produced by the old, with growth in new construction and improvements excluded.
Long-term debt and bond issues
For capital expenditures, the district may issue bonds for up to 20 years at an interest rate of up to 6 percent after voter approval. Examples of capital expenditures include building an additional firehouse, purchasing new equipment that will last multiple years, and making other purchases or improvements of long-term usability rather than normal annual operating expenses.
Because a bond issue obligates all taxable property in the district as security for repayment, an exceptional majority of voters must approve. If the question is presented at an April municipal election, August of an even-numbered year’s primary election, or November of an even-numbered year’s general election, four-sevenths, or 57.1 percent, of those voting must approve. These elections have the highest voter turnout. On any other election date (February, March or June), two-thirds, or 66.7 percent, of those voting must approve. (See Chapter XVII. Bond Issues for more detail.)
Three statutes authorize some fire districts to impose a sales tax. The legislature commonly expands this authority, however, so consult the current version of Chapter 321 and the most recent session laws to determine what sales taxes may be imposed. As of this writing, the sales tax authority is found in Sections 321.242 (1/4 cent for a single fire district), 321.246 (1/2 cent for a few fire districts) and 321.552 (1 cent for all fire districts except those in Greene, Platte, Clay, St. Louis and St. Charles counties, with up to 50 percent of the sales tax committed to property tax relief).
Estimating the revenue a district might realize from a sales tax is difficult. The Department of Revenue (DOR) keeps its sales tax data by ZIP code, and ZIP code boundaries seldom coincide with fire district boundaries. A few years ago a jurisdiction discovered that some of its merchants were mistakenly listed in a neighboring jurisdiction. After ensuring that merchants are listed in the correct jurisdiction, the district should have an authorized person check the detailed sales tax reports to ensure that all merchants in the district are paying the tax. Any problems should be promptly called to the attention of the DOR.