A Joplin representative says owners of businesses destroyed by the May 22 tornado owe about 659 thousand dollars through the end of the year in property taxes. Representative Bill White thinks in the interest of fairness, those owners should be off the hook until they can get back in business.

He wants the legislature during the special session to consider a bill that would let owners ask assessors in their counties to lower the value of businesses destroyed by natural disasters across the state this year. White says in Joplin, many of those are small businesses that he does not want to see move elsewhere because owners can’t afford to pay taxes while shut down.

It mimics the occupancy statute that counties can opt into currently. White says it would be up to county commissions whether to participate in this plan.

Once a business is back in operation, property tax collection could resume under a new assessment value. White suggests the rainy day fund could be used to supplement revenue lost to counties, to make sure vital functions are still supported.

Governor Nixon has pledged 1.5 million dollars to cover property taxes that go to Joplin schools, but White notes other entities that benefit from the tax are not covered. Such entities include road and fire districts and SB40 boards related to sheltered workshops.

White says it is important that his bill be passed in the special session so that owners in Joplin will only have to pay the greater tax amount for 5 months of the year. He believes this could not be done retroactively, if a bill were not passed until next year.

Bills are still being drafted, but White believes he can have a version ready by the beginning of the special session next week. He says the Governor’s office is “interested in the idea.”

Hear Representative Bill White’s testimony before the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Disaster Response mp3 4:48