Move deprives county of estimated $40,000 in property taxes

Thursday, January 9, 2003

LA BELLE, Mo. -- Charles Sharpe has taken another step aimed at getting back at the county that he feels has done him wrong.

Sharpe is a multimillionaire northeast Missouri insurance executive who also owns Sharpe Land and Cattle and is founder of the Heartland Christian Academy. He said he has spent more than $2 million over the past two years defending Heartland against a long list of charges, mostly over the strong forms of discipline used at the school for troubled youths. That discipline includes paddlings and, in one instance, forcing misbehaving youngsters to stand in piles of manure.

Sharpe said discipline is part of the program, but strongly denies that any children have been abused. No Heartland officials have been convicted of wrongdoing, though some charges are still pending.

On New Year's Eve, Sharpe fired back against what he considers harassment by Lewis County.

He spent the day moving about $10 million worth of farm equipment from Lewis County to Knox County. The move deprived Lewis County an estimated $40,000 in personal property taxes while providing a proportional boost to Knox.

According to Missouri law, personal property is assessed wherever it happens to be located on New Year's Day. After that, it can be moved from one county to another throughout the year.

It was the second straight year Sharpe made sure Lewis County officials would feel his anger. On Dec. 31, 2001, he moved about $7.5 million worth of farm equipment from Lewis to Knox, costing Lewis about $26,000 in personal property taxes.

The big loser in all of this is the Lewis County School District, which is losing thousands of dollars in revenue at a time when the district -- like most others around Missouri -- is facing tight finances.

Roughly $17,000 would have gone to the Lewis County School District.

District administrative assistant E.H. Smith said school officials "had not anticipated that we would lose that kind of revenue. Unless it's made up someplace else, that's going to cause at least that much of a deficit in our budget."

Sharpe said the action is the only way he can effectively protest the county's actions against Heartland.

"We don't want to move our machinery at all. We want to leave it right where it is in Lewis County because I grew up there. I was born in Lewis County. I've spent my life in Lewis County," Sharpe said.

"We're trying to help the community. But the law enforcement -- and, more specifically, the prosecutor -- is trying to put a bunch of our people in jail for nothing. So I don't think I should finance the county to put our people in jail."

Lewis County prosecutor Jules DeCoster was out of the office Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Sharpe is also building a cheese-processing plant in Knox County and expanding his dairy operation there. He said the $1 million plant will employ about 10 people when it opens in April, and could eventually employ up to 50.

Sharpe said he initially planned to build the plant in Lewis County next to his dairy operation. He changed his mind after the charges were filed against Heartland.

"Knox County has treated us very well, and they need the help," he said.

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