Editor's note: Because of incorrect information included in the original version, the following story has been updated. The Missourian apologizes to all involved for any misinterpretations or errors.
By Keith E. Domke
St. Clair Missourian Editor
Franklin County Assessor Tom Copeland clarified to The Missourian on Tuesday that all personal property, used or unused, is supposed be claimed by both businesses and individuals for assessment purposes.
He also said the situation involving St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum regarding his personal property has been taken care of, "and the matter is closed."
The newspaper incorrectly interpreted and reported some comments made by Copeland regarding an allegation made against Blum and personal property from his dissolved business that remains at his residence.
"If it's owned, it needs to be claimed," Copeland said on Wednesday, adding that Blum came into his office to take care of the situation earlier this week.
Copeland said he believes it was an inadvertent error.
The situation arose when The Missourian received a telephone call on June 4 from a man who identified himself as Tim Miller. He claimed Blum had not paid personal property taxes on machinery and other equipment located at his residence and hasn’t for several years.
According to the caller identification number on a phone at the Missourian's Washington office, the number where the call originated came from Kempin Automotive in House Springs. The Missourian called the number to verify it and later called again and talked to owner Chris Kempin. Kempin said no one named Tim Miller works at his business, but he does have a customer by that name.
Kempin said on Wednesday phone records show that his business made no calls to either The Missourian's Washington or St. Clair offices on that day.
Kempin also said he no longer is a tenant at the St. Clair Regional Airport, as the original story stated. He said he moved out of the facility at the beginning of the year. He said he never has filed any complaints regarding Blum or the city of St. Clair regarding the airport and the city's attempt to close it.
During the original call on June 4, the man twice identified himself as Tim Miller.
After the call, The Missourian looked into the situation and called the Franklin County Collector’s Office, which stated Blum had paid all personal and general property taxes since at least 2008. Blum himself, when asked, said his bills have been paid and that some old equipment on his property has not been used since his construction company dissolved about five years ago.
“I haven’t used those things since I went out of business,” the mayor told The Missourian. “In fact, I’m trying to sell it.”
The mayor said since his business dissolved, he has sold a dump truck and trailer. He has a crane truck, backhoe, and a couple of job trailers that have sat unused since then.
The Missourian then called Copeland.
When The Missourian called the number on the caller ID screen "Miller" used, Kempin answered. He said a man named Miller does not work for him, but he has a customer with that name. Kempin said at the time he had no idea that "Miller" had used his business phone.
“I heard him talking about the mayor and his property taxes the other day,” Kempin did say.
The man who identified himself as Miller told The Missourian that “we will get this information out to the public.” When asked who “we” referred to, the man would not say.
On the St. Clair Airport Blog — an online chat group organized by Jim DeVries of Pacific, a St. Clair Regional Airport tenant who has been the most vehement voice against the city and its closure request and who has filed both formal and informal complaints with MoDOT and the FAA against the city — Blum’s personal property tax allegation, ironically, has been a recent topic.
Starting June 3, several comments have been posted, none with true identifying names. However, both DeVries and Kempin have been users of the blog.
Users need to include a name when posting a comment, but anything can be used and stated.
“It must be burdensome, oppressive, or troublesome for the mayor to pay his personal property taxes,” one comment states. “I hear he has not paid taxes on equipment he has on his property for years. If this is true should he even be the mayor? I thought the city needed more tax money for schools, fire, police and other things. Someone needs to check on this rumor.”
That post is followed by these:
“If this is true why is he the mayor? I did not think you could run for office if your taxes were not paid by the filing date. Maybe the newspaper should do some investigative reporting.”
“It’s kind of ironic that the mayor is trying to close the airport to build a strip mall so the city can get more tax money and he does not even pay his own fair share. Wow! I wonder if the ... people that voted for him know he is a tax cheat?”
St. Clair has been trying to close the 80-acre facility located on the north side of town for several years. Permission needs to be granted by the FAA because the city obtained federal grants to make improvements.
City officials and MoDOT and the FAA have been communicating back and forth on a regular basis for a couple of years.
The city is waiting for a decision from the FAA on the closure request.
Oftentimes, the blog is used to attack Blum and other city officials. The attacks do not always deal with the St. Clair Regional Airport and usually are slighted to side with the local tenants’ views.