Thursday, December 17, 2009

City Licenses: Seeking Enlightenment

The following was recently e-mailed to Mr. Michael McMillan:

Please forward this e-mail to Mr. Michael McMillan, License Collector, City of St. Louis

Dear Mr. McMillan:

On Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 an article titled “Soulard: The Tax Haven Revisited” was posted on a blog labeled Gumbo, the Forum for Soulard at http://gumbotheforumforsoulard.blogspot.com/. The article contained information about bar/restaurants in the Soulard neighborhood whose property taxes are in arrears or were paid after the deadline. (Please note that this letter is also posted on the blog.)

My understanding is that businesses cannot open their doors and do business unless they have been granted a business license. I understand a business license cannot be issued if the business owes any taxes. Are these understandings correct, or have I misread the laws and ordinances of the City of St. Louis?

I have been approached by several business owners who have paid all their relevant taxes. They want to know why businesses which have not been good citizens - those which have not paid all their taxes - are being subsidized by those who have. They believe an unfair competitive advantage has been created. At what point is a business which has a defective business license - one which does not meet the requirements as defined by laws and ordinances of the City of St. Louis - going to be closed? Are the business licensing laws something to be taken casually here in St. Louis, by both elected officials and businesses?

There are some people in Soulard who feel that there are too many bars/restaurants in the neighborhood. They feel that the large number of these establishments contribute to quality of life problems. Examples of these quality of life issues include increased crime, trash, noise, traffic accidents, vandalism, and others. That some of these establishments remain open when it appears that they have defective licenses suggests favoritism and corruption in City of St. Louis government. They are expected to pay their taxes, their parking tickets, etc., etc., but bars/restaurants which degrade the living experience in the neighborhood seem to get a free pass. Could you please address this concept? Is there any concern by you that residents think favoritism and corruption is an ingredient in St. Louis city government?

I am most interested in hearing from you so that your responses can be published on the blog in order to set the record straight and to calm the fears and anger of some of my fellow citizens. Thank you in advance for your time.

ADDENDUM: The following was attached to the above message and re-sent to The Honorable Michael McMillan on January 4:

Dear Michael McMillan, License Collector, City of St. Louis

This is the second e-mail I have sent you. The first was sent on Dec. 17 to the e-mail address licensecollectorsoffice@stlouiscity.com, as directed by your page on the CIN/St. Louis web site. The e-mail seeks information about irregular business licenses in Soulard, as per a story published on the Soulard blog on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 and titled Soulard: The Tax Haven Revisited. I have not received any answer from you. You may not have been able to find the story due to an error in the blog address. My apologies for the mistake. Thus, I am re-sending the first e-mail to mcmillanm@stlouiscity.com, a different address. I look forward to hearing from you.

7 comments:

Brenda Starr said...

My real estate tax bill for 2008came in the mail last week and I paid it this week.

Am I paying not only for the property I own but also for bars and businesses in Soulard who are not paying their real estate taxes?

I live in the red zone. I put up with screeming patrons running up and down the street when the bars close at 1:30 am. The next morning I put up with beer bottles thrown into my yard and take out food cartons left on the curb or on top of the dumpsters. Is this food for anyone other than the rats in the alleyways? And then there is, of course, the trash.

Now I find out, that in addition to the above named complaints, I am also paying for city services to the bars who are not doing their share by paying their taxes.

How much are we residents expected to put up with to keep the bars in business?

When I moved to St. Louis several years ago I thought I was moving to a minimally corrupt place. How wrong I was.

Patrick said...

Don't be so naive! When you moved to Soulard were you completely unaware that this was one of the major entertainment (bar) districts in St. Louis? If you want to live in this area, you have to take the good with the bad. If you don't like it move to Kirkwood.

Anonymous said...

Fair's fair, and this is NOT.

While taxes are not my favorite topic, I totally agree with the comment that "There are some people in Soulard who feel that there are too many bars/restaurants in the neighborhood. They feel that the large number of these establishments contribute to quality of life problems. Examples of these quality of life issues include increased crime, trash, noise, traffic accidents, vandalism, and others."

Add to this list that the PARTY HEARTY attitude is attracting the wrong people to become residents. I heard one of those new people actually say something like "if you didn't like the party you shouldn't have come to Soulard in the first place."

IN THE FIRST PLACE, I was among those who came (before the party) to rescue the historical beauty of the architecture and the then residents who were being taken advantage of by greedy investors.

Most of us early Soulard residents came to strengthen the area as a neighborhood, the kind of place where people were neighborly, where we all worked together very hard to establish our homes within a community of cooperative spirit. Old fashioned, eh? Yep, and it was wonderful. Here was the real American spirit in that we came, we made it better with our own sweat equity, and we celebrated one another.

Remnants of that spirit still exist in the Soulard internet network where we share information, help re-unite owners with missing pets, etc.

When I came to Soulard, my real estate taxes were $26 a year! YES! As one of the Soulard pioneers, I did not get a tax break as did the speculators. My taxes were hiked every year until they are now very difficult to pay on the fixed income of a retiree.

So, after all these years (since 1972) I cannot eat at these many fine establishments because of rowdy drunks and cigarette smoke. I have to take my dining dollars outside of Soulard to places which are smoke free.

Over the years, the drunks have hit and run smashed into my car numerous times, have littered my front yard (and back) with trash and the glass of broken beer bottles. Once I opened the rear gate to take my own trash to a dumpster and was greeted by a very merry Mardi Gras fool who aimed up and down, covering my entire body inhis own version of recycled beer, very delighted with his creativity. I'm fed up with what the party atmosphere does to my neighborhood, but I'm not leaving. I hope the others who also still care will help move the party to some other more appropriate location.

Taxes? Yeah I suppose that the bars should not be allowed to operate if unpaid taxes are their way of doing business. Maybe we could even have a residential version of cutting back on benefits - maybe the bars with unpaid taxes could be considered vacated, and licenses not renewed, the buildings required to be re-opened with no liquor license!

Grammakaren

Anonymous said...

Hey Patick, believe it or not, some of your neighbors pre-date this "entertainment district" concept that was originally coined by our Excise Commissioner and resident, Bob Kraiberg. We are still trying to live down that error of his.

How long have you been in Soulard ? I went to the very first Mardi Gras when Hillary Clements had a private party at his home and before he opened his bar, Hillary's, on his first floor. So, Patrick, don't tell me or others that we "knew what we were getting into" without thinking first, promise ?

Kirkwood is a great suburb and with Webster Groves one of my favorites. However, I have no intention of letting small minds like yours telling me to move. You wouldn't be in Soulard if not for the 34 years I devoted to it to make it safe for you people to move here.

So, I will contnue to hope that we get a diverse mix of businesses in our entertainment district, like a bakery or branch library in a storefront ? Certtainly, even you could wish that, right ? By the way, many bar owners don't want anymore competition ad they thnink Soulard is too saturated as it is with bars.

Anonymous said...

The larger issue here is beyond bars and restaurants and when someone moved to the area.

Even as an entertainment district, Soulard is struggling. People no longer think of Soulard as the place to be. People are starting to think of it as a washed up, filthy place with crime.

You can be an entertainment district and still be respectable but Soulard is failing to do that.

There are two strong sides of this agrument - No Bars and Yes Bars.

It would be nice to see people work together. Residents should stand up and declare that businesses must pay their taxes.

When these businesses fail to pay their taxes this money disappears. Money that could go to cleaning up the neighborhood.

I'm not against entertainment but residents must be aware of what they support. If residents do not protect their neighborhood it could easily become something like Sauget, IL.

Anonymous said...

Theae developments are interesting - and vexing. For years and years, I have been paying my ever increasing tax bills to the City and have just assumed that everyone else did too.

What I find strange, from the list of non-compliant bars, is the fact that those entities are always out there selling "product" during the Mardi Gras THING. I know bar owners who claim to be in receipt of $1,000s for their trouble, and are joyful about their windfall by merit of being located within the "red zone" where much of the hoopla is concentrated.

My point is that these innumerable dollars could, and probably SHOULD be used to reduce their tax responsibilities. In most cases, taxes are paid on time by most everyone who owes them. The question is, What makes these few places different? Why does the City put up with this? Are these delinquent taxes causing services to everyone to come up short of what's needed or expected? What other taxes are being ignored?

Anonymous said...

Patrick,
I moved FROM Kirkwood to Soulard many years sgo. I have helped more than a few prospective bar owners to *forget about* opening here in my neighborhood. Even helped close a few.
Soulard used to be very quiet, and some parts still are! I don't need to be awakened at closing time, but often am. Most bar patrons leave quietly, and hopefully safely, but there always seem to be a few who want the whole neighborhood to wake up and wish them a speedy getaway.

Soulard doesn't need small, noisy, adled brains driving around in the dark without adult supervision.