The group that judges assessments in Warren County took a recent look at non-profit organizations' tax-exempt status.
Although the assessment review board's findings were not released by the county, it appears that one of the organizations that could have to start paying property taxes is Warren General Hospital.
In a Wednesday press release, hospital CEO John Papalia said, "Of significant concern, however, is the recent notice of Warren County's decision to revoke the hospital's tax-exempt status for real property taxes."
In a previous release, Warren County Chief Assessor Karen Beardsley said the Board of Appeals reviewed 49 parcels, representing holdings of tax-exempt organizations.
"We reviewed or will review every parcel that is not specifically exempted by law," Beardsley wrote.
Among the properties Beardsley listed as exempt were: "burial grounds, places of worship, veterans organizations, public parks, courthouses, jails, schoolhouses, hospitals, libraries, government buildings and lands such as the Fish and Game Commission, museums, fire and rescue stations, etc."
"I have listed hospitals and burial grounds above," Beardsley wrote. "As with many things the exempt status with these types of properties is not black or white. Burial grounds and hospitals can be exempt but are not necessarily exempt."
"It depends on whether or not all of their revenue is used for no other purpose than to support the charitable goals of the institution," she wrote. "To qualify (for exemption) from real estate taxes, an entity must pass all five tests under the "Hospitalization Utilization Project v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PA Supreme Court; 1985), more commonly referred to as the HUP test."
There are five tests to determine whether an entity is non-profit and an entity must satisfy all five to be tax-exempt, Beardsley said. "Those five tests are: 1. the institution must advance a charitable purpose; 2. the institution must donate or render gratuitously a substantial portion of its services; 3. the institution must benefit a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity; 4. the institution must relieve the government of some of its burden and; 5. the institution must operate entirely free from private profit motive."
"The board acknowledges that the decision to review the nonprofit entities is unpopular with the entities but is fair to the property owners in Warren County who bear the burden of the property tax liability in the county," Beardsley said.
The members of the appeals board are Bernard J. Hessley, Joseph Whipp, and Douglas Wilson. They are appointed by the Warren County Commissioners and serve four-year terms.
"The board of appeals, given legislative guidelines, felt it owed the residents of Warren County no less than 'our fullest attention in examining the activities of our nonprofit and tax-exempt entities'," Beardsley said. "It is not their intent to be adversarial, but conscientious and diligent."
"If an entity truly qualifies for exemption then we want to ensure that they continue to receive tax exemption," she said. "If it is determined that the nonprofit does not meet the legislative tests, then it is our responsibility and obligation to ensure that they share in the tax burden of the county."
Beardsley did not release the list of parcels that were ruled non tax-exempt, nor the number of parcels, and did not comment on any particular properties.
"The documentation was reviewed and now each non-profit has the opportunity to come before the board of appeals in October for a one-on-one meeting," she wrote. "After the appeal hearings in October we will know what properties do not meet the criteria for continued tax exempt status."
Entities that are not satisfied with the results of the one-to-one meetings with the appeals board in October may appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, she wrote.
The board of directors of the Rouse Estate also received notice that the estate's tax-exempt status was in jeopardy.
"We did get a notification from the Board of Appeals," Chief Executive Officer Jasen Diley said. "We have submitted information and are very confident that we meet the required test for a not-for-profit."
The Rouse also is the subject of an act of the Pennsylvania legislature. Act 1323 of 1866 is labeled "An act to exempt the property of the Rouse estate, in the county of Warren, from taxation."
Three of the five members of the Rouse board of directors are the Warren County Commissioners.