I Rise in Defense of the Congressman …
Channel Five did an investigative report last night on the assessed valuation of Congressman Todd Akin’s property in West St. Louis County. According to the St. Louis County assessor’s office, the congressman’s five acres are categorized as three acres of residential property and two acres of agricultural. This is important, because the taxes on agricultural property are dramatically lower then residential or commercial.
Overall, the report was pretty fair. It made it clear that:
According to state law, it’s not the Akins’ job to inform the county. It’s the appraiser’s job to inspect the area physically.
No property owner in Missouri is responsible for informing the assessor if they believe their property is assessed to low. And with the high (and probably accurate) assessments on the three acres of residential property Akin owns, I am sure the congressman has long felt he paid his fair share of taxes. I just checked what they are paying each year in property taxes, and it is indeed very high, even with the benefits of two acres being agricultural. I am not going to post their personal tax info here, public info though it may be, but it is easy enough for anyone to do at the St. Louis County website if you don’t believe me.
This may be an interesting story, but the congressman has done absolutely nothing wrong. It may have been a scandal if the congressman or his family had appealed the valuation to get the designation changed to agricultural and claimed non-existing agricultural uses, but by all accounts that never happened. You might be surprised to know that there is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes agricultural versus residential property on larger estates of more than one acre. The first acre, where the home is, will always be residential, but beyond that it is really up to the assessors.
This is not the first time I have heard complaints from people who live on smaller lots next to multi-acre estates about the agricultural designation and resulting tax benefits. I can’t recall the address, but when I worked for Kurt Odenwald on the County Council I remember getting calls about some 40-acre plot in far west county that had about 39 acres agricultural and 1 acre residential, with a very modest house. The neighbors, in their new McMansions on one-acre lots, were paying more in taxes for one acre than this person was for 40. There was nothing the assessor’s office could do about it, as the owner of the 40 acres kept a few horses on the land; agricultural seemed to be the correct designation.
Far from benefiting from his power as a congressman, Akin will almost certainly suffer for it as, because of his position, he may have to bow to public pressure and allow the assessor’s office to change the designation next year to residential without a fight. He would be well within his rights to fight to keep the agricultual designation, and something as simple as letting a pony roam the two acres, or planting a few tomato plants on them, would likely guarantee his success in that dispute. The St. Louis County assessor has over 300,000 properties it must assess every two years. There are going to be mistakes, oversights and confusion with so many lots. This one falls into the last category, sort of on the line between the two property classifications. However, just because the ball fell onto the right side of the line for Akin does not mean he did anything at all wrong or should be forced to give up his appeal rights because of media or political pressure.