Property Tax Exemptions Are Too Easy To Get In Missouri
Would you be surprised if I told you that there is no clear rule about what qualifies for property tax exemption in Missouri? You can qualify for property tax exemption if you have a religious, charitable, or educational institution, but that simple list leaves plenty of room. What about for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix? Should they be tax-exempt? How about the personal homes of part-time pastors of small independent churches? Should they be tax-exempt? (Many are.) How about Scientology? Should that be a tax-exempt church? For years it was not because it did not worship a God (see bottom note in link).
Some of the hardest debates come from retirement communities and daycare centers. Many organizations operate these businesses on a for-profit basis, but hold some spots for charity. They attempt to claim tax exemption from that small percent of charity cases. There can be a significant difference in the types of services these businesses provide. Many truly cater to the needy (Head Start, etc.) and likely deserve tax exemption. Others cater to the well-off and absolutely do not deserve it. Daycare centers have mostly been unsuccessful in obtaining tax-exempt status. However, the senior-care industry has much more money at stake and has been more successful.
A new senior community in Kirkwood is attempting to qualify for tax exemption. The amount of money at stake is almost $1 million per year. The Saint Louis County assessor is fighting back, and good for him. Tax exemptions should be given out very carefully, because other taxpayers have to make up the difference when properties are removed from the tax rolls. This is one of the reasons the city of Saint Louis is dependent on the earnings tax. There are so many tax-exempt organizations within the city that the property tax base is too small to depend on it. Think Barnes Hospital, SLU, etc. The city then makes the problem worse by generously giving out TIF and operating the LRA poorly, but I understand their line of thinking.
I do not think a private organization operating a for-profit senior center deserves tax exemption. I hope Saint Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman is successful in his efforts to fight it. I think he is dead-on correct in his opposition.
The final decision is up to the Saint Louis County Council, though. Ultimately, they will probably base their decision on whether the business is unionized or not.