The thousands to millions of dollars tax-exempt entities in Warren County stand to lose if their exemptions are taken away would be money out of the community's pocket.
The Warren County Board of Assessment Appeals evaluated the non-profit entities in the county in 2012 and identified several it believed should not be exempt from real estate taxes. Most of the entities filed appeals and the first significant court action on the cases is set for Tuesday, Aug. 27, when a summary judgment hearing of the cases of Warren General Hospital and the Rouse Estate will be held.
Representatives of some of the agencies warn that the repercussions to a possible decision against their tax-exempt status will have direct consequences to the community.
"If the Warren County YMCA were to lose the appeal there would be a long-term and devastating impact on the operation of many of our programs," CEO Thad Turner said. "We have some of the lowest membership and program fees in the country. We operate on an extremely tight budget and continually strive to provide very high quality programs in a safe, clean facility at the lowest cost possible. Our staff are paid significantly below the YMCA national average and considerably less than their for-profit equivalent."
"If the tax-exempt status of Warren General Hospital is revoked, it will significantly weaken our ability to remain an independent community hospital," Board Chairman Timothy Bevevino said. "The estimated annual tax bill of $1.7 million must be paid with funds that would otherwise be used to furnish health care services to the community. For this reason, a decision to revoke the hospital's tax-exempt status is of great concern now and in the future."
"I know it will be much harder for Calvary Chapel to help those in need if our tax exempt status is taken," Pastor Jeff York said, "and once ours is gone the government will tax them all."
Warren General Hospital
"Since its inception in the late 1800's, Warren General Hospital has been a charitable organization," Bevevino said. "As a charitable organization, WGH provides over $1 million of charity care annually to those most in need of services and unable to pay."
"In an ever-changing environment, our community hospital has been able to stay fiscally sound, giving those of us in our community the benefit of a high-quality, community-governed hospital," he said.
Warren General stands to pay the most in property taxes if the decision goes against the agencies and those taxes would change the hospital's ability to act as it has in the past.
"It will have far-reaching impacts on access to health care for our county residents," Bevevino said. "WGH will lose the ability to provide many of the free screenings and services offered to the community. These services are critical to community health."
"Not only will the free services and screenings within the community be impacted, other services offered by the hospital will also be affected," he said. "As a result of the economic impact, there becomes a great concern for the loss of jobs provided by the hospital as services at the hospital have to be restructured or eliminated completely."
"The loss of tax-exempt status leads to a concern of quality job loss as well," he said. "Warren General Hospital currently employs over 700 health care professionals and is one of the leading employers in Warren County. A loss of quality jobs is detrimental not only to the hospital but to the community as a whole."
"In an effort to sustain all services offered, to maintain a quality healthcare workforce and to remain an independent community hospital, WGH will continue to fight Warren County's decision to take away the hospital's tax-exempt status through the court system," Bevevino said. "While WGH is already feeling the financial impacts from legal costs, if WGH's tax-exempt status is revoked, it will not only be costly to WGH but the community it serves as well."
"We have several programs that have little or no source of funding that are in place solely to meet the needs of the community," Turner said.
"Our 7th grade Initiative Program makes available a year-long membership to every seventh grader in Warren County," he said. "That would likely be discontinued."
"We allow several local agencies that work with folks with special needs to use the YMCA facility for little or no cost," he said. "We could no longer provide that."
"The overall cleanliness, upkeep and staffing of the YMCA would need to be reduced," he said.
"People have commented that the YMCA is an 'athletic club' or charges too much for our services," Turner said. "Your YMCA provides:
over $60,000 in individual aid to families each year; over $12,000 to local service agencies each year;
over $3,000 to military families each year;
more than 600 members receive significantly reduced memberships;
over $11,000 to early teen programming;
collaboration with more than 40 other service agencies;
programming for more than 1,000 youth;
in total over $310,000 in services back to the community."
"The taxes, in the long run, would diminish the attraction that Warren County has on retaining, recruiting, and recalling people to live in this area by lessening the ability of the YMCA to provide a high quality of service," he said.
"We believe that for the last 37 years we have done nothing but serve the Warren County Area as a true not-for-profit 501(c) corporation," York said. "To have our tax exempt status removed without what we feel to be due process is tragic. The issue presented by our current commissioners and assessors has nothing to do with fairness. We do not believe any of the entities targeted have been treated with any fairness."
"Calvary Chapel has, since 1977 provided services and creative opportunities to our communities," he said. "We have been a very positive force in our communities."
"From counseling, meeting needs of clothing, food, help with bills, providing safe family-oriented programs, to education, to a radio ministry that now reaches far beyond our community even worldwide through internet access, to our nursing home ministries, we are making a difference to better lives, better our communities," York said. "Now this is being threatened because our elected officials are unable to budget within their means."
"This is not about fairness," he said. "Every hard-working American is paying more than their fair share of taxes. It is about government spending running out of control."
"To begin taxing not-for-profit entities and church ministries is a shame," he said. "Why not help those who are doing so much in the communities?"
Warren County Memorial Park
The officials at Warren County Memorial Park decided fighting the change to its tax-exempt status was not worth it. The legal fees could run to the equivalent of several years of the new taxes for the cemetery.
"The Board of Directors decided not to pursue the appeal," Warren County Memorial Park manager Ruth Seebeck said. "The cost of a legal fight through the courts was too prohibitive, especially since the outcome is so uncertain."
"They determined that, as a non-profit cemetery - meaning all profits earned are to be used for the benefit of the cemetery and its lot owner families, and do not accrue to the stockholders - the Park can better use its funds to maintain and improve the cemetery," Seebeck said.
"If the case is lost in court, the legal expenses must still be paid and the real estate assessment might be deemed retroactive to the assessment, not to the date of court decision," she said. "It was a risk they were unwilling to take."
"The monies that will now go toward real estate taxes cannot be used for maintenance and improvements here at the cemetery," Seebeck said. "It affects how soon we can upgrade roads, do preventive or protective maintenance on the stone features (the Bible, the carved stone Last Supper plaque, etc.), landscape improvements, etc."
"The result included an increase in costs to our lot owners for various services and may result in seasonal layoffs (which we have avoided for the past several years)," she said.
Rouse and Crary Home
The CEO of the Rouse, Jasen Diley, and Crary Home administrator Darrell Pusateri declined comment, citing attorneys' advice not to speak about the issue during the course of the legal proceeding.
"I have ministered in the nursing homes for years and there is none better than the Rouse Home," York said. "Why we would want to tax them is beyond belief."
"I would ask our commissioners to put an end to this type of madness," York said. "Stand up and lead, encouraging community involvement, rather than taxing not-for-profits out of business."