St. John’s Health Systems, Inc., has paid over $300,000 in protest on personal property at the Rolla Mercy Clinic that company officials believe is tax exempt over the last three years.

St. John’s has contended that the property, which consists of machinery, tools and equipment, is exempt from taxation under state statute 137.100(5), which states, “All property, real or personal, actually or regularly used exclusively for ... purposes purely charitable and not held for private or corporate profit” is exempt from taxation for state, county or local purposes.

Former Phelps County Assessor Kevin Rasmussen had assessed the property, which he felt was taxable, in 2010 and 2011.

According to Phelps County Collector Davis Haas, taxes paid on the personal property at the clinic totaled $173,036.65 in 2010 and $126,820.30 in 2011.

According to tax commission documents, the assessed value of personal property totaled $4,931,040 in 2010 and $3,644,410 in 2011.

Taxes paid on the personal property in 2012 totaled $39,034.27, but St. John’s has not contested the 2012 taxes at this time. Haas has held on to all three payments in an escrow fund.

In January, a a Missouri State Tax Commission senior hearing officer agreed with St. John’s and ruled that the subject property was tax exempt.

Last week, The Rolla Daily News learned that the county and its current Assessor Bill Wiggins had appealed the hearing officer’s ruling to the tax commission itself.

The county has contracted with the law firm Williams, Robinson, Rigler and Buschjost, of Rolla, for its appeal.

During Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Wiggins told commissioners that he does not want to exceed $10,000 in legal fees for the appeal. He asked if the commissioners would be willing to help with legal fees, but they made no decision Tuesday.

Commissioners did, however, question if the Rolla School District should be contacted to see if district officials have an interest in helping with legal fees since the property taxes are paid to the district.

If the tax commission does not rule in favor of the county, Wiggins said the county could consider appealing the issue in circuit court.

In other business

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners awarded a bid to Dowd Supply Co., Poplar Bluff, for grader blades for the county road department in the amount of $8,327.

n The commission approved a request by the sheriff’s department to apply for traffic enforcement grants to help pay for overtime for efforts, such as checkpoints to discourage speeding, driving under the influence and aggressive driving. The two applications are for $10,000 and $3,500.

Commissioners awarded a bid for a 2004 Taurus that the sheriff’s department is selling to Butch Tomnitz, who submitted the only bid of $250 for the vehicle.

Wiggins noted that as of Feb. 19, 350 personal property assessment forms have been completed using a new online tool available at County residents must have their assessment forms completed online or turned into the assessor’s office before March 1 or they will be charged late fees.