The Investigators: One family owes Shelby County over $1 million in property taxes for Collierville toxic site

Shelby County can’t auction property because of environmental issues

Family owes Shelby County $1.32 million in property taxes

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Shelby County relies on property taxes to fund schools, roads and public safety.

Yet, dozens of property owners haven’t paid their taxes in years. The delinquency adds up to more than $30 million.

The owners of 719 Piper Street in Collierville owe more than anyone else. They haven’t paid Shelby County property taxes since 2007 and owe the county more than $1.32 million.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said neighbor Angie Walker. “I think that’s a disgrace to this town.”

The property is more than a tax burden. It is also unsafe.

In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency deemed the property to be one of the worst hazardous waste sites in the country.

Federal records show the site was leased to battery casing and farm tool manufacturers between the 1960s and 2007 and that the operators contaminated the soil and ground with toxic chemicals.

In 2008, the EPA started cleaning the site and the owners stopped paying taxes. The main tool Shelby County officials have to collect delinquent taxes - a tax sale - will not work with 719 Piper Street.

“The way state law is, if we take it then we’re responsible for all that clean up for those properties,” said Shelby County Commissioner Eddie Jones. He is Chairman of the Shelby County Budget and Finance Committee.

The property has been scheduled for tax sales three times in the past but each time, the property was pulled because of its environmental issues.

“When they have environmental issues they won’t do that but in my opinion, if you’re not willing to take them to a tax sale then there’s another place you can take them: take 'em to court,” said Jones.

However, tracking down the owners may prove difficult.

Shelby County records show the owners as Claudia and Paul Piper. But federal documents show that after Paul Piper died, the property was put in a trust for Claudia Piper and her children.

At the owner’s listed address, no one answered.

The Investigators also called a number attached to a gate on the property, which led us to Paul Piper in Park City, Utah. We called, emailed and texted Piper but didn’t hear back.

Commissioner Jones has a message for the Pipers.

“At some point in time, your family lived here. And if you don’t live here we need you to come back, take care of your responsibilities - you still own the property - and we would like for you to do it on your own accord rather than forcing us to take additional measures to make sure that you get that done,” he said.

The EPA says there’s no threat to those living or working near the site on Piper Street.

The cleanup, at taxpayers’ expense, is ongoing with a current tab of $15 million. There is currently a lien on the property for that amount.

If anyone wants to buy the property, they would have to pay that lien along with the back taxes.

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