When state lawmakers closed a loophole last year that allows St. Clair County to collect property taxes on the privately-run military housing at Scott Air Force Base, we applauded. It seemed only fair because that's how housing at a Naval base near Chicago is treated.
But that was before the Air Force passed over Scott as a site for its new air refueling tankers. Is fighting this battle straining our relationship with the Air Force?
Although technically this is a dispute between the county and the private Hunt Development Group, clearly it is on the Air Force radar. Last year an assistant secretary of the Air Force wrote Gov. Pat Quinn, urging him to not sign the bill that closed the loophole. He wrote that if Hunt Group has to pay the taxes, services would be reduced for military families that live on base.
Hunt Group just sued St. Clair County, challenging the constitutionality of the law. That could mean years of wrangling and the expense of a protracted legal battle.
The lawsuit should be settled out of court quickly, not just to avoid those legal costs but also to stay on good terms with the Air Force. Scott has an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion to the regional economy. That's more important than the $1.3 million or so a year in property taxes if St. Clair County wins this lawsuit.
As the Air Force pointed out to Quinn, the Air Force provides water, sewer, police and fire protection for the base housing, not the local taxing districts. Also the Mascoutah School District receives federal impact aid to help educate children who live on base. Really the district should get either property taxes or full impact aid, not double dip.
The Mascoutah School District has $20 million in cash reserves, so obviously it's not hurting. But our area could be if this feud drags on. Maybe the tanker decision says we already are hurting.