By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
Gregory F.X. Daly, St. Louis collector of revenue, and his deputy, Tom Vollmer, are among the more popular people at cocktail parties — a fact they concede with more surprise than hubris. "The first thing I hate telling people is that I'm the tax collector, because everybody hates the tax man," says Vollmer. "But people have so many questions. They really do want to know a lot about our business."
Ah, the Tax Man. He's on everybody's minds come spring, and no less this year as gas prices spike, piggybanks empty and visions of stimulus checks dance in our heads.
After inquiring into the significance of "F.X." (for "Francis Xavier"), most people want to be told exactly where their tax money goes after it reaches the collector's account. Inside the city limits, public schools, city operations and libraries top the list, garnering 57.8 percent, 20.74 percent and 7.35 percent, respectively. In the county, the most funds go to school districts (54.42 percent), community colleges and special school districts (15.38 percent) and fire districts (9.05 percent).
Here's a question most people don't tend to ask: Who ain't payin'?
The query arose at Riverfront Times early this spring when we received a tip that a certain public official had been sanctioned for failing to pay several years' worth of real estate taxes. Public-records laws that govern personnel matters prevented us from verifying whether the alleged deadbeat had been disciplined.
On the other hand, those same laws permit us to open the whole book. Info on earnings taxes is off-limits, but personal property and real estate tax rolls are entirely available to the public.
In order to be as up-to-date as possible, we requested lists of accounts delinquent as of the end of the year's first quarter. (That wasn't possible for data on personal property taxes in St. Louis County, which is accurate as of February 25.)
The four separate spreadsheets we combed over contain a total of 228,916 delinquent accounts.
That's the bad news.
The good news: In both the city and county, more than 90 percent of taxpayers adhere to their part of the social contract, settling up before the December 31 due date.
"But we're not happy at 92 percent," asserts Tom Vollmer. "We're happy at 100 percent. Because let's face it: If you and I are paying, everybody else should, too."
Of course, not everyone who fails to pay does so intentionally, cautions Daly. "For as many taxpayers who're trying to dodge it, there are just as many for whom it slipped their mind, or they thought their wife was doing it," Daly says. Undoubtedly some people aren't even aware their account with the tax collector is overdue.
It's hard to quantify the toll tax delinquents take on the public coffers. Daly and Vollmer believe their office eventually collects every penny it's owed and recoups all the resources expended in going after the deadbeats.
But Tim Lee, assistant collector for St. Louis County, disagrees.
"If I added up the time, the labor, the manpower, the postage, the county counselor's and the sheriff's involvement in the 1,000 lawsuits we file every year, does my office come out ahead?" Lee asks. "Absolutely not. I lose money on it. Everybody loses money when somebody doesn't pay on time."
So, you ask, who ain't payin'?
Well, for starters, the public official who inspired the initial tip is indeed a deadbeat. But that person has company, including several state legislators. More broadly, the roster includes real estate developers, silk-stocking lawyers, professional athletes and one very prominent pro sports team.
Note: For the purposes of this story, if the city and/or county didn't have your accounts classified as current at the time they produced the spreadsheets we requested, you're — well, you're a deadbeat.
Before we commence with specifics, another caveat or two: Owing to time constraints, space restrictions and all-around brain crampage, we couldn't possibly trace all 228,916 delinquent accounts. So we cherry-picked, highlighting the people and businesses who owed the most, as well as those with names that ring a bell.
Parentheses and footnotes indicate information that we've added. For accounts listed in the name of a company, we tracked down the top dog via the company's registration with the Missouri Secretary of State. For accounts listed in the name of individuals, we consulted other data sources and/or telephoned them directly in order to fill in the blanks.By far the easiest way to view the information is to download it in pdf form: Click on the links below to see our cherry-picked lists of prominent deadbeat taxpayers. Some of the names might surprise you!
Keep in mind that the records present a snapshot of city and county accounts at the time the data was generated, and that Riverfront Times is not in any way vouching for the clarity or accuracy of governmental record-keeping.
If you care to troll the government-provided data yourself, the contents of the spreadsheets are available here as .zip files: City Real Estate Tax Deadbeats, City Personal Property Tax Deadbeats, County Personal Property Tax Deadbeats and County Real Estate Tax Deadbeats.
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