The top tax violators in Shelby County

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Every year, millions of dollars in county taxes go uncollected because people don't pay their fair share.

WREG has obtained the latest list of the top 10 delinquent properties in Shelby County, and it includes properties owned by churches, a mall, abandoned apartments, a construction business and other sites where the owners are way behind in taxes.

The largest outstanding tax bill belongs to Worley Brothers Scrap Iron and Metal for its property at 29 Illinois in South Memphis. The company owes more than $822,000 in back taxes on the property. WREG went by the property and it appears as if business is booming, yet the county tax rolls are benefiting.

WREG's Stephanie Scurlock tried to confront another top violator, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, for its Four Stones properties. Churches don't pay taxes, but if they own property for other use, they must pay up. The CME owes Shelby County more than $544,000.

Our calls about back taxes on another delinquent property with ties to a church also went unanswered. On World Overcomers Church's website it talks about the purchase of the Hickory Ridge Mall and re opening it as the Expansion of God's Kingdom from the church to the marketplace. They owe Shelby County almost $500,000 in back taxes.

We asked the man in charge of collecting taxes about the tax bill.

"That property is actually in an active pay plan where they're paying periodically on that particular property," said County Trustee David Lenoir.

A payment plan keeps the Shelby County trustee from seizing the property and selling it auction, which is what legally can happen when properties go delinquent for years.

"We've obviously got to file a lawsuit against them. We`ve got to take a judgment against them and begin to notify those property owners they`re property is in jeopardy of being sold at a tax sale."

Our investigation revealed the reason some property owners rack up big unpaid tax bills is because the county purposely allows them. One of those properties, the Smalley-Piper site in Collierville, is now out of business. The EPA put the property on its list of contaminated Superfund sites.

"At the end of the day if an investor doesn't show up and buy that property at the tax sale then the county could become the default owner of that property. And so now we own a piece of property that has a $2 million environmental clean-up bill on it."

Lenoir said fear of contamination at the scarp yard at 29 Illinois is also the reason Worley Brothers' tax bill continues to climb, even though the property is operational and customers still patronize the business.

Delinquent property owners hurt all of us in Shelby County. We pay more because they don't pay.

Lenoir said if everyone paid their taxes our schools would get the money they deserve and the county could reduce the tax rate 15 to 20 cents for all taxpayers.


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