St. Louis Tax Collector Targets Aircraft

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St. Louis County, Mo.'s tax department is targeting aircraft owners in an enforcement campaign aimed at collecting what may be millions of dollars in back property taxes. "We intend to recoup revenue that was owed to this county and has not been paid," Jake Zimmerman, the county's newly-elected tax assessor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Zimmerman became the county's first elected tax assessor in more than 50 years last month (bureaucrats handled the job in that time) and he's spending a lot of time determining which aircraft owners owe what. It's estimated there are about 700 aircraft based at the county's two main GA airports, Spirit of St. Louis and Creve Coeur. In the spirit of tax assessors everywhere, Zimmerman says it's up to the aircraft owners to prove they've paid the appropriate taxes and if they don't agree with the assessment he comes up it will be up to them to appeal. One of the issues is that since Missouri doesn't register aircraft, taxes on them are "self-reported" by the owners. Zimmerman is now using a variety of methods, including FlightAware data, to determine who owes what. As we reported in March, Sen. Claire McCaskill faced a $290,000 bill for back taxes on the Pilatus PC-12 she and her husband own and the Post-Dispatch reported that she suggested at the time that there were plenty of others who had missed paying the tax.

Under county law, tax is assessed based on the market value of the aircraft for those weighing less than 3,000 pounds, but corporate owners of larger aircraft can get a break if they declare the planes as commercial assets. In that case, the value of the aircraft is based proportionately on the number of miles the plane has been flown within Missouri during the tax year. It doesn't matter where the airplane is registered or whether its owner is a county resident. If the aircraft appears to be based at one of the GA airports and spends time in Missouri, the owner can expect a call from Zimmerman, particularly if he thinks they've neglected to pay the taxes. "If, as I suspect, there is substantial noncompliance within St. Louis County, then folks that haven't paid are potentially on the hook for the full assessed valuation of the airplane at county standards," Zimmerman told the Post-Dispatch. "If people have failed to take advantage of the more generous options available from the state because they chose to hide an asset from St. Louis County, then that is going to be their problem."