Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PHYLLIS CHASE: Boffo Developer Tax Breaks Prompt Final Request

COLUMBIA, Aug. 8 (Beat Byte) -- A Columbia Heart Beat story about huge property tax breaks for well-healed land developers prompted former Columbia Public Schools (CPS) superintendent Phyllis Chase to inquire about the issue on August 4th, the day before she announced her retirement.

Parents and patrons of the district had emailed, asking for answers about this easily abused, little-known tax bonanza.

The Columbia Heart Beat reported on an 18.2 acre parcel in Thornbrook, complete w/cul-de-sac and stubbed in utilities that the City of Columbia has zoned for residential single family homes (R1), but which the county assessor calls Farmland (FA). 

The parcel yielded all of $50.86 in 2007 property taxes: 

Controversial CrossCreek gets into the act, too. A commercially-zoned 13.9 acre parcel on that site netted only $31.50 in property taxes last year, thanks to its farmland designation:

Chase questioned the practice in an email to senior staffers, school board members, and concerned parents.

Apparently under the impression she was quoting from county assessor Tom Schauwecker's official county website, CPS business director Linda Quinley instead quoted from his campaign website, which did not explain why his office is designating parcels all over Boone County as "agricultural" when in fact, they are either zoned commercial or residential, and actively marketed as such; or when the land use has clearly changed.

Schauwecker's agricultural designations yield a two-fold tax whammy -- a vastly lower appraised value based on "soil grade" instead of market value and the lowest assessment rate permitted by law.

Case in point: three vacant parcels at Broadway Shops on East Broadway.   The City of Columbia has had the parcels zoned CP and O1 (planned commercial and office) since at least May 2003, subsequently engaging in several high-profile zoning battles with the parcels' owners, Forum Development Group:

But as of August 18, 2008, Schauwecker's office designated the parcels "Farmland-Vacant" (FV):

One parcel, 1.4 acres at the western tip of the development, is presently listed for sale at $1,228,392.00.   The sales ad touts the parcel's diverse possible uses as a planned commercial lot -- retail, office, or restaurant: 

Schauwecker has this parcel appraised at a fraction of its apparent market value -- $182,950.00 -- and assessed at the 12% rate for agricultural land: $21,954.00, yielding a 2007 tax bill of only $1,307.35:

The lower appraised value and the lower assessment rate add up to a significant tax loss.   Valued according to its use, zoning, and sale price -- $1,228,392.00 -- and assessed at the 32% rate for commercial property, the parcel would have generated $23,407.84 -- a whopping $22,100.49 difference.

Though Forum sounds like Farm if you say it fast enough, Forum Development Group isn't planting corn on Broadway Bluffs.

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