Commissioners move forward with Hampton Inn tax appeal

The Warren County Commissioners have ratified their decision to appeal President Judge Maureen Skerda’s decision on the tax assessment status of the Hampton Inn.

But it wasn’t without debate.

Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said that the decision was made in advance of a deadline to appeal during an executive session held during budget sessions last week.

“The case was just settled in court by Judge Skerda,” Commissioner Cindy Morrison noted. “While we would all like to have a crystal ball… We don’t know what the outcome of the appeal will be in Commonwealth Court. Litigators are very expensive.

“How much do we feel our taxpayers can really bare to continue to fight this in Commonwealth Court? We should live with the determinate made by the local court and stop spending the people’s money to fight this.”

“First and foremost, (Hampton Inn Owner) John McGraw and his company appealed their own taxes,” Eggleston said, noting the appeal was initiated six years ago before a different board of commissioners. “No one was singled out.”

He said the appeal is “about paying what everybody should be paying,” suggesting that over the course of the last nine years the Hampton Inn has paid “about 1/3 of the taxes it should be paying.”

He estimated the taxes he thinks they should be paying as between $160,000 and $180,000, noted that a settlement that was tentatively agreed to – but dismissed by the court – would have resulted in their paying $120,000 and added that they currently pay $60,000 annually.

“Over the past nine years, (Hampton Inn) saved almost $1,000,000 in taxes that everyone else has had to pay.”

Eggleston added that Warren County has incurred fees in protesting McGraw’s appeal.

“They’re property is heavily under assessed,” he added. “Even if they were increased $30,000 to $40,000 annually… that’s a huge amount of money that everybody else is going to pay that they were not paying.”

He said that his motivation is to make sure everyone is paying what they should.

“Is it worth it? The taxpayers will benefit. I recognize Hampton Inn will not benefit,” he added. “I think the county has a very good case in this situation. It’s time to move forward and do our due diligence. Hampton is a great business. I want to see it remain successful (but I) want to see it pay a more reasonable tax rate than it is paying.”

“We don’t pick up the tab for Hampton not paying its taxes unless taxes are raised,” Morrison countered.

“When you have multiple large commercial properties that get huge settlements in these appeals,” Eggleston said, “that reduces the revenue globally in the county. It has to be made up somewhere. Everyone else fills in the gap.

“Taxes are a difficult issue. I totally understand that. That’s why I think this is an important thing to address.”

“I think the debate about whether or not allowing the Hampton Inn to go forward with the low rate” is “moot,” Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said, because the county did raise taxes because businesses are not paying their fair share. It sets a bad precedent to ignore it.”

Affirming the decision to appeal was approved 2-1 with Morrison voting in opposition.