Summit County grants reprieve for some nonprofits facing ‘death penalty’ of tax bills
This is the first year local nonprofits weren’t told to apply for a tax exemption. About 25 didn’t, and faced the prospect of a steep tax bill that could threaten their existence.
Editor’s note: KPCW’s parent company is one of the nonprofits the Summit County Council granted tax exempt status. The county had mistakenly identified the station as a “government entity” that wasn’t required to apply for an exemption.
One of the benefits afforded to charities, churches and other nonprofits is that they don't have to pay taxes on their land. Most have to apply annually, however, to keep that tax exempt status intact.
Until this year, the Summit County Auditor’s Office sent letters to local nonprofits reminding them to file for property tax exemptions before a deadline in March. The county wasn’t required by law to send the letters and opted to stop sending them this year. But when those letters didn’t go out, many of the exemption requests didn’t come in.
According to information presented to the Summit County Council, 24 nonprofits applied for a tax exemption before the deadline, while 23 did not. Those that didn’t faced the very real prospect their tax exempt status would be revoked and they would be liable to pay property taxes.
The council on Wednesday heard from a handful of the nonprofits that didn’t apply in time, ranging from the Weilenmann School of Discovery to Nuzzles and Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption. The council granted a one-time exception for the nonprofits that appealed the revocation.
Councilor Roger Armstrong said the fact that the county stopped sending reminders of the deadline was a main reason he supported the exception. He said many nonprofits likely relied on those reminders.
Councilor Glenn Wright acknowledged the nonprofits had missed a deadline, but said paying full freight in property taxes was a steep cost that might put an end to some local charities.
“I have significant sympathy for these organizations. I wouldn't be against giving them a break on this,” Wright said. “But I wish there was some way we could penalize them other than, essentially, the death penalty on the property taxes, which is a pretty significant penalty.”
Not all of the charities that missed the deadline were granted an exemption. Apparently among those are the Park City Day School, Camp Oakley, a Methodist Church and Deer Valley Resort Company — the latter for a small parcel that includes a historic mining site.
The Park City Day School parcels total more than $6.5 million in taxable value, according to county records. School representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Camp Oakley, which describes itself as a center for therapeutic recreation, has five parcels near Oakley that total about $1 million in taxable value. Camp representatives also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A county attorney said the county is required by law to send “revocation notices” to nonprofits that are losing their tax exemptions. Auditor Michael Howard told the council his office sent certified letters notifying those nonprofits. The council granted exemptions only to the nonprofits that appealed their revocation as of Wednesday’s council meeting.
Summit County Assessor Stephanie Poll said local nonprofits certainly do good work. But she said she represents Summit County taxpayers when considering tax exemptions, and making sure everyone is taxed correctly is a way to ensure people pay their fair share. If one parcel of land is incorrectly exempted from taxes, she said, all of the rest of the county taxpayers have to pay more.
“It sounds kind of harsh to stick to penalties, to stick to deadlines,” Poll said. “But if you do that, if you stick to the deadline and you don't treat one person different than the other, then you don't have that problem of being inequitable.”
The council is expected to hear another round of protests at its meeting Wednesday.