Some folks squared everything away right after we made our records request, such as St. Louis County Circuit Court judge Terry Wiese. "Unfortunately we were waiting for our federal tax return [back] and that's been received," the judge explains, "and the bills have been taken care of, about a month ago."

Some just happen to be settling up the very week our calls go out, as is the case for Monsanto chairman Hugh Grant. "Bottom line: It was simply an oversight on their part," Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles says on behalf of his boss. "Ironically, just yesterday the payment was made."

Others cry foul.

Ron Poe, owner of MegaSun, a tanning-bed manufacturer, gripes that his bill went up 400 percent — from roughly $3,000 to $12,000 — for a warehouse in the Locust Business District. "I can tell you I wasn't hurrying down there to pay that," Poe says.

"And I just don't know what to do," he goes on. "They're giving huge tax abatements to all these loft developers and making up for the difference by taxing smaller businesses harder. It's over-taxing. I know I've got three years, but I think I'm going to sell. We're probably going to get out of St. Louis."

2007 was a reassessment year in the city, which has accounted for more protested bills than usual, according to Tom Vollmer. Such is the case with the Carpenters' District Council, for instance, which owes $74,235.59 for last year. Terry Nelson, executive secretary of the union, offers an unabashed explanation: "We're not ashamed of our name being in the paper, because we don't think they raised our bill legitimately. It went up what I would call an exorbitant amount, a lot more than it ever did before. That's why we're appealing."

There's also the potential for fuzzy math in governmental record-keeping. Bob Kraiberg, City of St. Louis excise commissioner, sounded horrified when we called to ask him why he was more than $10,000 in arrears for three properties in which he shares ownership with fellow developer Pete Rothschild. Further digging reveals that Kraiberg Properties LLC actually had settled up with the city before the December 31 deadline, but under protest. It turns out the tax collector's office does not remove from the delinquency rolls the names of those who have paid under protest (and nor have we) until the matter is settled — though as Kraiberg's accountant points out, "they have the money sitting there in escrow."

A Brief Tax-Rate Primer
In Missouri, real estate tax is computed by multiplying a property's assessed value by the tax rate imposed by the municipality in which it is located. To arrive at an assessed value, properties are appraised, then multiplied by a percentage of the appraised value as follows: 32 percent for commercial property, 12 percent for farm property and 19 percent for residential property. The tax rate in the City of St. Louis is 6.5 percent. In St. Louis County, tax rates vary by municipality; the average rate is 7.8 percent.

The same tax rates are applied to personal property. Individual property, such as cars, boats, trailers and motorcycles, are assigned average appraisal values using the Kelley Blue Book, then assessed at 33.3 percent. In the case of business equipment, the depreciated value of fixtures is calculated according to Internal Revenue Service guidelines, then assessed at 33.3 percent.



Personal Property Tax Deadbeats
Both city and county fare slightly worse when it comes to collecting personal property taxes, the annual fees applied to business equipment, and to anything with a motor or wheels owned by individuals.

In the city, 2.2 percent stands uncollected from 2004; the county has yet to collect 1.82 percent of its total charge for that same year.

The officials typically seek payment for up to six years for individuals, eleven for businesses. Marriages and moves sometimes complicate the sleuthing. Says Tim Lee: "If we can find you, we go after you."

License plates cannot be renewed without proof of payment — which explains why numerous accounts go unsettled for two-year periods in both city and county. Both jurisdictions thus come down hardest on individuals after the second year of delinquency. The collectors file suit in circuit court; if the delinquent still fails to settle, the judge orders a default judgment and the deadbeat will face subsequent problems with his credit.

But, cautions Lee: "There is no rule that says we can't go after them sooner. State statute says that for somebody who hasn't paid up, we can send a request that their [vehicle] registration be suspended. It's a good tool to have."

Businesses get bird-dogged more. The city files suit after five months, the county waits six. "We have to be more proactive with companies because they can go into debt quickly and dissolve, and we'll never find them again," Lee explains. "Besides, those who aren't paying are not truly playing on an equal field with their competitors. Their business is still getting services that other people's taxes are paying for."

Bars and restaurants, members of the media and politicos are prevalent on the city's delinquency roster as of April 4. Topping the list — and way, way ahead of the pack: our very own Redbirds!

View Ten of the Biggest Personal Property Tax Delinquents in St. Louis City.
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