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Be Smart About Your Tax Return

February 12, 2016 Taxes 2 Comments
Free File, click image for IRS' Free File page
Free File, click image for IRS’ Free File page

It’s tax season so you’ll see more news stories about people trying to get your refund. We haven’t received everything we need to finish our taxes but I’m 100% certain nobody will steal our refund — because we’re not getting one. The only time you get a refund is when you’ve overpaid the IRS by having too much money withheld. They return the overpayment to you without interest. Adjust your withholding to reduce your annual overpayment to almost zero.

The other thing I see a lot of these days are advertisements selling tax preparation software & services.  Many pay $50-$400 for services they could do online for free. Yes, free.

All federal forms are free. It’s free whether you draw a paycheck, are self-employed or are a small business owner. It’s free whether you file a Form 1040, 1040EZ or 1040A. It’s free whether you have mortgage interest to deduct, have kids in college or earn a little from the stock market. It’s all free. (IRS)

Incomes up to $62,000 can use online software for free, higher incomes can use fillable forms.


If you do go to a tax service, please don’t pay extra to get your refund immediately — it’s a high interest loan.

— Steve Patterson


Special Taxing Districts in St. Louis

Burger King at Loughborough Commons is part of the Loughborough Commons Community Improvement District, November 2008
Burger King at Loughborough Commons is part of the Loughborough Commons Community Improvement District, November 2008

Recent curiosity about special taxing districts has been a can of worms — the number of them just within the City of St. Louis is overwhelming. Plus, they’re not all alike. Some are Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) based on Missouri law, others are special business districts established by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.  Another type is transportation development districts (TDDs).  Some collect sales taxes, others property taxes, possibly some collect both. Some collect money from business licenses.

These are different than Tax Increment Financing (TIF). From a 2012 Post-Dispatch story:

Local governments and school districts worried about a cash crunch have put extra scrutiny on the use of TIF, which uses future tax revenue generated by a project to help fund its construction. That can sap money from other needs down the road. CIDs and TDDs, on the other hand, don’t touch the tax base. They simply add a new tax on property owners, shoppers or both extra for an extra layer of service.

They are also popular because they’re flexible. Developers and neighborhood groups say CIDs are a way to raise money for things that cash-strapped city governments can’t afford. Many point to the Times Square Business Improvement District, created in the early 1990s by business owners to help clean up the New York City landmark, as an example of their potential. And similar examples exist in St. Louis. Like in The Grove. (Pennies add up as special taxing districts proliferate)

As an 8+ year property owner in the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District I’ve voted on the ongoing management — a state requirement to get approval by a percentage of registered voters. However, the accountably and transparency of these vary greatly.

In 2016 I’ll look into the differences between these districts.

— Steve Patterson


The Future of Grant’s Farm is Uncertain

The future of Grant’s Farm is coming between siblings — children of the late August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch, Jr. (1899-1989). I find it unsettling to see wealthy siblings, in their 50s & 60s, disagreeing m public.

Before I go any further, I have a confession: I’ve never been inside the gates of Grant’s Farm or the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site located across…Grant Rd. I’ve certainly driven past on Gravois many times, even exploring the perimeter like Pardee Rd. On Sunday we drove around the site completely. Though the site contains many buildings, it’s still very much unspoiled nature.

The Gravois Rd entry gates to Grant's Farm
The Gravois Rd entry gates to Grant’s Farm

One comment on the Sunday Poll post was:

FYI your 3rd choice isn’t an option. Do a little research on what municipality Grant’s Farm lies in and what it’s zoning laws and ordinances are. Also look up what part lies in a flood plain. Not going to have to worry about any commercial or residential development here!

While poll answers are presented in random order, this was a reference to the poll answer: “Sell to a developer for houses &/or retail”  Not only is it possible, this is the concern of the four Busch siblings that would like to sell the animal preserve to the St. Louis Zoo.

Four Anheuser-Busch heirs worry that their brother, Billy Busch, will turn Grant’s Farm into a subdivision.

No one man can finance and maintain the sprawling South St. Louis County animal park, said Trudy Busch Valentine and Andy Busch. It’s just too expensive.

They have seen housing plat maps already drafted for the Grant’s Farm land, they both said, and know it’s an option for any owner if times get tough.

Billy Busch responded, saying he wouldn’t sell off land. St. Louis County classifies the land as single family, Grantwood Village has it zoned “Animal Preserve.” The Lindbergh School District would likely object to a loss of tax revenue if it went to the Zoo.

County records show the site as 214 acres, though news reports say 198 acres
County records show the site as 214 acres, though news reports say 198 acres
Parking & farm land on the East side of Grant Rd is a different ownership from the trust.
Parking & farm land on the East side of Grant Rd is a different ownership from the trust.
Pedestrian entrance from Grant Rd parking lot
Pedestrian entrance from Grant Rd parking lot
The National site is less than 9 acres
The National site is less than 9 acres

Here are the results of the Sunday Poll:

Q: Six Busch siblings can’t agree on Grant’s Farm, what would you like to see happen?

  1. William “Billy” Busch buys it, builds Kräftig Brewery on part, allows Zoo to use part. 31 [58.49%]
  2. St. Louis Zoo buys it, the region fund a new sales tax to cover annual operating expenses. 12 [22.64%]
  3. Stay as is, owned by the family trust & operated at an annual loss by AB InBev 9 [16.98%]
  4. Other — county buys, becomes affordable housing: 1 [1.89%]
  5. Sell to a developer for houses &/or retail 0 [0%]

A century ago such a family would’ve donated the land to the Zoo, along with an endowment to help cover upkeep. Are taxpayers willing to pay to keep this land as an animal preserve? Doubtful. The future seems uncertain.

— Steve Patterson


Readers: To Fund MoDOT Missouri Should Increase Fuel Taxes, Toll I-70, & Revise Our Open Container Law

The floor of the Missouri House of Representatives, 2011
The floor of the Missouri House of Representatives, 2011

The Missouri Department of Revenue needs more money, voters rejected a sales tax. The Missouri legislature continues to ignore the most obvious solutions. Readers in the Sunday Poll put the options in the right order:

Q: Of the following, what should Missouri do to solve MoDOT’s funding shortfall: (check all that apply)

  1. Increase fuel taxes 35 [38.04%]
  2. TIE  20 [21.74%]
    1. Revise Missouri’s open container law so we can receive additional federal highway dollars
    2. Toll I-70 between metro STL & metro KC
  3. Increase vehicle licensing/registration fees 13 [14.13%]
  4. Increase sales taxes 4 [4.35%]
  5. Nothing, stay the course 0 [0%]

Our fuel taxes are among the lowest in the country and our neighboring states — this is obvious.  Another is changing Missouri’s open container law — I mean actually having one:

Although a driver is prohibited from consuming alcohol while driving, Missouri has no general open container law for vehicles, a characteristic which Missouri shares only with the states of Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia. Any non-driving vehicle passenger thus is permitted to possess an open container and consume alcohol in Missouri while the vehicle is in motion, although 31 smaller municipalities, the largest being Independence and St. Charles, have local open container laws. The metropolises of St. Louis and Kansas City have no local open container laws, and thus the state law (or lack thereof) governs. This makes it possible for a passenger to drink legally through the entire 250-mile (400 km) trip across Missouri on Interstate 70between Downtown Kansas City and Downtown St. Louis, only closing his container while passing through the city limits of Independence, Bates City, Columbia, Foristell, and St. Charles.

As a result of having no state open container laws, under the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century of 1999, a percentage of Missouri’s federal highway funds is transferred instead to alcohol education programs each year. Since 1999, the Missouri General Assembly has considered several bills which would have created open container regimens satisfying the federal law, but each one “failed due to weak legislative support.” Anheuser-Busch leads opposition to enacting a passenger open container law. (Wikipedia)


The federal law encourages states to outlaw open containers by changing the earmarks for transportation funding. Under TEA-21, federal standards require a complete ban on open containers in vehicles, and states not conforming must divert funds from road maintenance into alcohol education, enforcement and crash prevention. The Fed can’t tell states what to do, but they’re not against making this money-backed suggestion.

The rub is about $12 million less each year for road maintenance in Missouri, according to MoDOT spokeswoman Kristi Jamison. The trade-off is somewhat political; Missouri asserts its sovereignty by refusing to overstep the boundaries of private property, and the diverted money helps ameliorate drunk driving problems in the state. “One of the positive benefits is that it also goes to law enforcement to help with DUI enforcements, whether through overtime or equipment to help out,” Jamison says, and adds that the funds also contribute to 500 miles of guard cable on highway dividers. (Vox Magazine)

So millions every year aren’t being used to maintain our roads & bridges because an influential brewer wants to make sure passengers can consume their products?

— Steve Patterson


Readers Overwhelmingly Support Public Vote On Funding A New NFL Stadium

The current home of the St. Louis Rams
The current home of the St. Louis Rams

After controversial funding of our current MLB stadium (Busch III) an ordinance was passed to give voters a say at the ballot box.  At the time few probably thought about funding for the next NFL stadium — the Rams weren’t quite 10 years into a 30-year lease. Now they’re at 20 years and, because the Edward Jones dome isn’t top-tier, they’re now annual tenants.

Proponents could make the argument that we’ve elected people to represent us, let them do what we elected them to do. That’s the only argument I can think of to oppose a vote. In this case that isn’t even a very good argument. This involves huge sums of money over the coming decades — not something we should let others handle. If we’re going to fund & build another NFL stadium a decade before our current one is paid for then voters should be involved.

Results from the Sunday Poll:

Q:  Should St. Louis tax payers get to vote on funding a new NFL stadium?

  1. Yes 35 [83.33%]
  2. No 6 [14.29%]
  3. Unsure/No Opinion 1 [2.38%]
  4. Maybe 0 [0%]

The leaders pushing for a new stadium deal don’t want a public vote because they know an affirmative vote would be a tough sell, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

— Steve Patterson