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SLU sues after assessor sends property tax bill

Saint Louis University is suing the assessor for the city of St. Louis, claiming he improperly assessed the university taxes on 20 properties it owns in the city, including its new law school.

The university said that as an educational, nonprofit entity its property is not subject to taxation. But the assessor said the university is profiting from uses of the properties — including Chaifetz Arena and publicly accessible parking lots — that aren’t part of any educational, charitable or religious mission.

“They’re in direct competition with other parking lots that are on the tax rolls,” city assessor Edward Bushmeyer said in a telephone interview.

Bushmeyer said the properties were taxed on portions that were used for non-educational purposes. He said the law school, for instance, was assessed at 1.5 percent of its value based on the amount of space that The Docket, a public restaurant, takes up.

In May 2013, according to a petition filed Wednesday in St. Louis Circuit Court, the assessor sent the university a “change of assessment” notice. The university appealed the notice, and, on Aug. 26, the St. Louis City Board of Equalization denied the university’s appeal in a hearing.

In the petition, the university said that Article X, Section 6 of the state Constitution and RSMo. 137.100 clearly state that the university is exempt from the city taxes.

SLU is asking a judge for a trial de novo, a determination of exemption, to have the decision of the Board of Equalization reversed and to order exemptions going forward for as long as SLU owns the property.

Thomas L. Caradonna, of Lewis Rice & Fingersh, filed the petition for SLU and did not immediately return a phone call Thursday afternoon. University spokesman Clayton Berry did not comment Thursday afternoon.

The case is Saint Louis University v. Edward Bushmeyer, Assessor for the City of St. Louis, 1322-CC09410.