Suburban Farms? Tax loophole lets developers pay virtually nothing in property taxes


by Chris Nagus

Posted on November 1, 2011 at 9:25 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 1 at 9:32 PM

(KMOV) -- Think you're paying too much in property taxes?

Maybe you should think about planting some crops in your backyard.
When you see what some developers are getting away with under Missouri law it will make you wonder why you can't do it too.
There are more than 300 vacant lots in Danny Seidel's St. Peters neighborhood, but maybe we shouldn't call them lots, instead think of them as little farms.
But these farms are growing sewer pipes, piles of rocks, and a precious little plant.
In Missouri, red clover is considered a crop, and for developers who can't sell lots, it's a cash crop in the form of a tax break.
“If I went to the tax commission and said I want to grow clover on my property they would laugh me out of the courthouse" said Seidel.
The developers who owned the lots in Seidel's neighborhood challenged the St Charles County Assessor.
They wanted the land to be reclassified from residential to agricultural.
County Assessor Scott Shipman's office took plenty of pictures and it didn't look like a farm to him.
Shipman ruled against the tax break, but the developers appealed to the Missouri Tax Commission.
The Commission voted in the developers favor.
Under Missouri law, the lots are agricultural because the clover can be bailed into hay.
In this case, the Assessor placed the value of the land at more than $1.7 million but now that it's a farm, the Tax Commission says the value is just over $ 3,700.
That means the tax bill goes from $130,000 to $275.
The St. Charles County Assessor hasn't decided if he's going to appeal the Tax Commissions decision, because he's not sure it's a battle he can win - not unless lawmakers decided to change the law.