New ruling backs tax rate

A Missouri Supreme Court vote sided with local schools instead of a previous appeal.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:16 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Missouri Supreme Court sided against anti-tax activist Henry Lane on Tuesday and upheld the legality of the Columbia Public Schools’ method for setting its tax rate in 2001.

The seven-member court ruled unanimously in favor of the district and Boone County Collector Pat Lensmeyer.

The ruling ends a three-year battle waged by Lane and others over an increased tax assessment that was implemented by the school district in 2001.

The decision voided a ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in Lane’s favor. The earlier decision said the district’s method for setting its 2001 tax assessment was illegal, thereby entitling Lane and eight other petitioners to a refund on their overpaid taxes.

Tuesday’s decision said all nine petitioners would not have received a refund unless the district had originally failed to notify taxpayers of the increased tax assessment.

“They said Lane didn’t have any entitlement — period,” said Alex Bartlett, the district’s lawyer.

He said the ruling confirms the legality of Columbia Public Schools’ 2001 tax rate and offers very little recourse for Lane.

Bartlett said Lane’s lawyer has 15 days to file a motion asking the court to reconsider, but he said it’s not likely they will.

“The Supreme Court very rarely reconsiders, especially if the decision is unanimous,” Bartlett said, “unless it feels the need to clear up ambiguity.”

“That’s the only thing left for Mr. Lane on this matter,” he added

On Tuesday evening, Lane said that he had just read the ruling and that he needed to review the decision with his lawyer before deciding whether to pursue it any further.

“We knew we were absolutely right, and we just wanted justice,” Lane said. “We got it at the appeals court.”

Lane said he spent more than $34,000 of his own money on the lawsuit against the district.

Lane said he remained committed to the suit despite ridicule because he’d researched the issue thoroughly and could even point out discrepancies to the school board.

Bartlett said the district’s legal fees to date amount to more than $100,000. However, he said not defending itself could have cost the district more than $1 million, which Lane claimed it owed taxpayers in excess taxes.

Lane’s earlier tax battles include his 1999 victory against GTE over a tax error that increased customers’ bills by about eight cents per month. GTE admitted its mistake and credited customers.

In addition to Lane, lawsuit petitioners against the school district and county collector were Lloyd Haley, Curtis Braschler, Gordon Trumbo, Beulah Alverson, Ernest Greenup, Ronald Lucas and William and Margie Anglen.

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