There’s a reason why veteran Kansas City Star investigative reporter Karen Dillon has won a slew of awards during her journalism career, the last 20 with the McClatchy-owned paper.
And the University of Missouri graduate just might win some more trophies with her blockbuster front-page story (4/15) in the Star dealing with the dirty little secret of developers in Johnson County who classify their land as agricultural to avoid paying millions of dollars taxes. (Shane Keyser was the photographer.)
She starts her article with the lede “You could call it the Wal-Mart farm.” She then explains how Walmart owns 20 acres of prime land where it once planned to open a store. The store never opened but the mega-corporation paid a paltry $53 in taxes in 2011 for the land. It normally would have cost thousands of dollars in taxes if it wasn’t labeled as farm land.
Dillon points out numerous examples where corporations and developers simply classify the land they own as agricultural and pay virtually no property taxes despite not growing a thing on it. A vacant lot in a development with a normal appraised value of $62,000 might cause a normal person $800 in taxes. If classified as agricultural the appraised values plummets to $10-$20 per year with taxes dropped to a ridiculous 35 cents.
This is the kind of story that will very likely reverberate in government circles and force these individuals and corporations to pay their fair share.
It also will likely mean some more well-deserved awards for Dillon, the KC Press Club’s 2010 “Journalist of the Year.”