Columbia gets the bill for small-town, big-ticket corruption

COLUMBIA, Mo 02/26/15 (Beat Byte) --  One of the biggest Columbia taxpayer ripoffs in recent memory is about to run its end game, when Columbia City Council members vote March 2 to annex 128 acres of land near Battle High School and St. Charles Road, into city limits. 

The annexation's largest beneficiary -- the St. Charles Road Development Group -- will then use taxpayer-funded sewer, water, electric, streets, lights, sidewalks and other infrastructure to support Somerset Village, 271 single-family homes and 32 acres of apartments and offices.

Otherwise known as the St. Charles Road Gang -- MBS Books president Bob Pugh; Atkins Corporation chiefs Tom and Scott Atkins; builder Rob Wolverton; and the estate of Little Dixie Construction founder Bob Lemone -- the developers already have a park and two schools as "anchors" that help sell homes and rent apartments and offices. 

Six-Part Heist

Columbia residents who wonder why they pay higher school district taxes every other year and higher utility rates every year need look no farther than the St. Charles Road Development Gang's latest caper. 

It's a galling, six-part, years-long taxpayer heist that goes something l
ike this: 

1)  Developer pays almost nothing in property taxes for land in the County.

2)  Developer sells grossly-undertaxed land for big bucks to school district (CPS) and city.  

3)  As a land sale condition,
developer insists school district and city pay for early infrastructure.

4)  At taxpayer expense, CPS builds schools and City Hall builds parks that make the subdivision dramatically more appealing to buyers and renters.   

Developer annexes the land into the city for more taxpayer-funded infrastructure. 

Developer sets up a TDD to push the rest of development costs onto sales tax payers. 

Fake Farmland 

The St. Charles Road Gang's taxpayer caper started when they first bought the land.

For developers who contributed over $50,000 to his re-election campaign, Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker -- a Democrat in office nearly 30 years -- assesses prime development land as "farmland," the lowest of all Missouri property tax valuations.  

On its 128 subdivision acres, the St. Charles Road Gang paid just
$497.00 in 2013 property taxes and just over $510 in 2014 property taxes

The tax averages $4/acre on land the developers sell -- to taxpayers -- for
$20,000 to $50,000 per acre

Among the Gang's most shocking 2014 property tax bills: 
$12.16 for 2.4 prime Somerset Village acres (click pic above or link to view). 

These "big developer-only" Schauwecker assessments violate the law if the land is not actively farmed, as mandated in the precedent-setting Northtown Village vs. Tom Davis Missouri State Tax Commission case.  

The Fake Farmland problem is so controversial that St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman ran video ads about it during his 2014 re-election campaign.   The ads called out developers who benefit from fake farmland assessments -- and the Assessors who let them.
The Gall of this Haul

The taxpayer ripoff continued when the Gang
sold the city of Columbia and Columbia Public Schools (CPS) land next door to Somerset Village for $3.1 million -- $20,000 to $50,000 per acre.

As a condition of the land sales for Battle High School and another elementary school, the Gang insisted CPS pay up to $3 million for
"the design and construction of all improvements on St. Charles Road" -- roads, sidewalks, traffic signals, etc. -- "all necessary related improvements to the intersection," landscaping on an adjacent road, and a pedway.

The land sales are especially galling because after cheating CPS and the city out of property tax dollars for so many years, the St. Charles Rd. Development Group turns around and sells land back to both entities -- for millions -- then makes them pay for most of the infrastructure! 

End Game

The annexation plan includes a "Transportation Development District" or TDD that will shoulder area shopppers with higher sales taxes to pay $30 million to build sidewalks along Battle Avenue; rebuild St. Charles Road along Somerset Village; and construct roundabouts at Battle Avenue, St. Charles Road, and Spartan Drive.

"The TDD will increase the cost of people's groceries," former Mayoral candidate Sid Sullivan told the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted unanimously to approve Somerset Village. 

Columbia voters will be asked to approve several large utility bill hikes this April, while higher school district taxes may be in the works for next year.