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Government, Politics & Issues

County assessor renews fight to hike property taxes for Harrah's Casino

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 26, 2012 - St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman offered up an I-told-you-so moment with today’s announcement that he’s renewing his fight to increase sharply the appraised value for the Harrah’s Casino complex in Maryland Heights.

Zimmerman said in a statement that he is hiking Harrah’s total appraised value to $502.4 million – the same figure that he had unsuccessfully sought in 2011.  Harrah’s had appealed the appraisal to the St. Louis County Board of Equalization, which slashed the assessed value to $215 million (a drop of $287.4 million).

Zimmerman pointed to reports of “the pending sale of the Harrah’s casino property for $610 million” to Penn National Gaming  as proof that his initial figure had been correct.

"It strengthens our case that our use of the 'income approach' was correct," Zimmerman said in an interview with the Beacon.

That approach had come under fire in 2011, as Zimmerman -- a former Democratic legislator who had then just taken office -- had sought to change the way businesses were assessed.

The assessed value should include the value of the business as well as its equipment and other concrete assets, Zimmerman had argued.

The assessor asserts that Harrah’s had unfairly “received a tax windfall“ that also had been unfair to other county taxpayers.

“When big entities like Harrah’s get special breaks, the rest of us wind up paying more," the assessor said in his statement. "All taxpayers must be treated equally, so that everyone – including Harrah’s – ultimately pays their fair share.”

In the interview, Zimmerman added, "I believed then and I believe today that the reduction was a mistake.

Board of Equalization chair Leslie Broadnax has yet to comment.

It will be up to Harrah’s to decide whether to appeal the new appraisal, and up to the Board of Equalization to determine whether to support or oppose Zimmerman’s renewed effort.

Zimmerman said that his decision regarding Harrah's won't affect the assessed value of the county's other casino complex, River City.

That figure was set at $270 million after a similar 2011 battle with the Board of Equalization. But in that case, the board initially lowered the assessed value, then increased the figure so that it was close to Zimmerman's initial proposal.

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