The Warren County Assessment Review Board has re-examined the status of tax-exempt entities around the county and found a handful they feel may not qualify.
The board, appointed by the county commissioners and consisting of Bernard Hessley, Joseph Whipp and Douglas Wilson; examined 49 property parcels. The number of parcels is not indicative of the number of entities examined as some tax-exempt organizations control more than one parcel.
Of the parcels reviewed, 28 raised questions amongst the board members as to their qualifications for tax-exempt status. The 28 parcels are owned by eight currently exempt entities.
"Pretty much, anyone we did determine was not (exemption eligible) is filing an appeal," Warren County Chief Assessor Karen Beardsley said.
As to the other county non-profits examined, Beardsley said, "Some of them we determined they were tax exempt."
Warren General Hospital, Warren County Memorial Park, Rouse Home, The Crary Home, the YMCA, Calvary Chapel, Habitat for Humanity and the Struthers Library Theatre were all tentatively determined to be ineligible for exemption from property taxes.
All are appealing the decision and, on either Oct. 22 or 26, are scheduled to go before the review board and plead their case.
"We're really not making any decisions. We're just saying there are some questions," Beardsley stressed. "they're coming in in October, and they can meet with the board face-to-face then. If they are tax exempt, then we are happy to give them that status."
To be exempt from property taxes, an entity must "advance a charitable purpose," "donate or render gratuitously a substantial portion of its service," "benefit a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity," "relieve the government of some of its burden" and "operate entirely free of private profit motive".
In the case of entities in control of multiple property parcels, such as the hospital and the YMCA; the review board need not rule on the status of an entity as a whole, but may rule on the exemption status of individual parcels based on usage.
Beardsley admitted the five requirements are vague, but pointed out there is further guidance on how to interpret the qualifications. Case law precedence has provided assessors a basis for interpretation of each point.
For instance, a residential home for elderly women, the Hahn Home, was ruled to be tax-exempt despite accepting fees for service in the form of an agreement to turn all of each of the resident's assets over to the home in payment for care because those assets were of less value than the estimated total cost of the resident's remaining living and medical expenses.
On the other hand, a new YMCA building in Pittsburgh was deemed to not be tax exempt, as it primarily served dues paying members and did not benefit the general public.
Beardsley did not comment on what grounds each of the entities' statuses are being contested, but noted there are a number of points the board is questioning about the entities under the five qualifying points.
"I think it's a good thing they're coming (in October)," Beardsley said. "It's good that they can sit down at the table and have a chance to discuss this."
Following the appeals, the board will make a final determination on each property's status. Beardsley noted they may rule some or all of the entities do qualify as tax-exempt.
Once the board rules a property is not tax-exempt, an assessment will be done to determine the value and property tax burdens will be determined based on current millage rates.
Entities wishing to contest the board's final determination can appeal a determination in court.