Businesses owe Shelby County millions in delinquent property taxes, records show

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — There are millions of dollars Shelby County leaders could add to their budget to improve things like education and safety — if businesses actually paid their taxes on time.

David Brag lives in an apartment complex off Cherry Road. He's frustrated to hear the property owner isn't paying his share.

"I'm working hard to pay my rent every week and every month," Brag said. "Then to find out you`re not paying taxes? That's sad."

Sad, because the owner hasn't paid taxes on this property in two years, according to county records. They state the place is owned by TN Champaign LLC and WI Memphis, and owes over $100,000.

"That's outrageous and ridiculous," said Bragg.

Bragg said he's never met the owners, and staff told us off-camera a new company took over, contrary to what county records state.

The whole thing left us with more questions that answers, especially since the owners listed their mailing address as a P.O. box.

The same P.O. box linked to another apartment complex on Winchester that's behind on taxes, too.

We kept digging through county records and finally found a name, Gary Pope, listed as the owner of the apartments on the trustee's website.

We went to his Cottonwood address. No one recognized the name, but say they remember a man ran a rental company out of the business complex.

"He like, literally left the country because of taxes and lawsuits and stuff. But the Gary Pope name doesn't ring a bell," said a man who worked in the business complex.

So, we went to the woman in charge of collecting real property taxes.

"It was surprising to see so many commercial businesses on the real estate delinquent list," said Shelby County Trustee Regina Morrison Newman.

She told us she compiled a list of the top delinquent realty taxpayers.

► See the county's list of delinquent taxpayers

As of May 15, the top 60 delinquent taxpayers owed about $10 million in taxes due on dozens of properties including new hotels, restaurants, overgrown lots, apartment complexes and more.

Some owe bills as big as three-quarters of a million bucks.

"When I say these are our top delinquent taxpayers and they owe the most, that means their properties are highly assessed," she said.

Newman said some owners set up payment plans and a few have environmental issues being worked out, but a majority just aren't ponying up and interest is building.

"The more money we get in, the more county needs get met," said Newman.

Many of the property owners didn't answer the doors or our calls, but one wanted to give their side of the story.

Worley Brothers Scrap Iron and Metal with several locations hasn't paid taxes since 2011 according to tax records. It owes around $181,000.

"Probably 10 years ago, this property had no debt," said David Cannon, who helps with the company's finances. "They had someone come in and convince them that they were better off to leverage what they had and grow the company."

That decision, he said, drowned the owners in debt.

"At the same time, the scrap market crashed. Scrap went from 14-15 cents to 5 cents a pound. With those margins, the company couldn't pay their debt," said Cannon.

He disputes the number they owe, but assured us the owner is working to pay the bill.

"It was him and his brother. His brother died about a year and half, two years ago. He started learning more about finances than he had ever known about the company," said Cannon.

He said the owner will work to keep the properties from going to a tax sale, which can legally happen if the owners continue to not pay their taxes.

It's a lengthy legal process, but the county can seize the property and auction it off.

The county says they are working to do that on all of the properties that haven't had taxes paid since 2008.

Below: The Top 60 delinquent taxpayers, acording to the Shelby County Trustee's Office

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