Bill tightens regulations for candidates to pay city taxes

Bill tightens regulations for candidates to pay city taxes

CITY HALL – A bill passed by the Board of Aldermen is meant to ensure that city residents do their civic duty before they run for office.

The measure approved on June 21 requires those filing for an office in St. Louis to sign an affidavit saying they have paid all their city property and earnings taxes, along with all of their water and refuse bills. Along with the affidavit, potential candidates must attach receipts or statements from the city Collector of Revenue’s Office saying they’re caught up with all obligations.

The bill also says the Collector of Revenue shall notify the Board of Election Commissioners on the day after filing for office closes, of anyone who is delinquent. That person can’t run for that office at that time.

“If you’re going to file for office, you should prove that your taxes are properly paid,” said the bill’s sponsor, 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro. “It doesn’t do anything other than hold you accountable.”

An ordinance passed in 2010 requires those filing for office to sign affidavits saying they have paid their personal or real estate property tax. But they don’t have to provide proof. They don’t have to say whether their earnings taxes or personal and real estate taxes are up to date. 

“If you go to get your driver’s license, or you go to get your license plates renewed, you can’t just sign an affidavit saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I did my taxes.’ You have to prove you had an inspection. You have to prove you paid your taxes before they give you those plates,” Vaccaro said. “Make sure your taxes are paid.”

Anyone can make a written complaint that a candidate is behind in taxes or city bills. If the election board discovers that’s true, the candidate can stay on the ballot by getting caught up on a tax or city bill within seven days. The 2010 ordinance contained a similar requirement.

One candidate who was behind on his tax bills in this year’s Democratic primary and general election was Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed. The election board received notice that Reed hadn’t paid personal property tax on an SUV and a motorcycle, said Gary Stoff, the election board’s Republican director.

“He promptly took care of it. I don’t think there was any motive of ill intent,” Stoff said.

Mary Ries, Reed’s legislative director, said Reed had a Durango that he donated to a nonprofit called Cars Helping Veterans. He was unaware that he owed taxes on the vehicle at the time of the donation. Those taxes were paid immediately, Ries said. 

Ries also said that Reed had forgotten to declare his motorcycle as personal property on a form the St. Louis Assessor’s Office sent out asking people to list the vehicles they own.

“It was a silly and simple mistake that has been corrected,” Ries said in an e-mail.

Under the 2010 ordinance, the mistake wouldn’t have been caught unless someone made a written complaint, Stoff said. Under the new bill, it would have been caught by the collector of revenue after the close of filing, he said. 

Collector of Revenue Gregory F.X. Daly said the bill would help to fix problems he said the election board had caused. 

“Alderman Vaccaro’s bill addresses a situation that I think the city of St. Louis should be embarrassed about,” Daly said. “We have some individuals that have failed to live up to the qualifications of the particular jobs that they’re filing for.”

Daly said the elections board hadn’t followed up on the affidavit people must file to prove they have paid their taxes.

“All they had to do is contact the collector of revenue,” he said.

A news release sent out by the collector’s office said that in the last two elections, the election board had certified three candidates to run against Daly who were not legally eligible to hold the position.  In 2014, two people filed for office who were too young; another candidate in 2018 wasn’t a city resident.

 The news release said several candidates who registered to run for office last year had outstanding tax bills. Their opponents had to take action to fix the problems.  

The 2010 ordinance leaves the decision of whether to investigate up to the election board. The new bill says that the election board shall “ensure” that those who do not meet its requirements don’t get on the ballot.  

The mayor plans to sign the bill, her spokesman, Koran Addo, said.