County seeks new attorney for tax case

An attempt to appoint new legal counsel to represent the Warren County Assessment Board of Appeals was tabled for two weeks by the Warren County Commissioners during their meeting Wednesday morning.

Chairman Stephen Vanco said that the agreement to appoint new counsel arrived Tuesday. He said current county solicitor Barry Klenowski urged “expedience in getting this done.”

The agreement would have named Dan Susi as the board’s next solicitor.

Commissioner John Bortz made the motion to approve, but Commissioner John Eggleston said he was “not prepared to go forward with a full approval.” He said he had several questions regarding the agreement.

The commissioners then talked about conditionally approving the agreement, but were unable to formulate an agreeable motion. Bortz said the appeal board’s previous solicitor and Warren County Chief Assessor Karen Beardsley have reviewed the agreement but the “commissioners haven’t had an opportunity to review it.”

The Assessment Board of Appeals has been the focus of significant controversy in recent months after conducting a review of all of the non-profit entities in the county to determine whether they should rightly be tax exempt. Warren General Hospital, the Warren YMCA and the Rouse Home are three of the entities currently embroiled in what will likely result in a legal battle over their tax-exempt 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.”

“We know this is going to be a long, drawn-out process,” Eggleston said.

Bortz said documentation has been filed with the court to which the “county has to respond” but “has yet to respond.” He said that is one of the reasons why Klenowski advised them to move forward with the agreement.

Bortz said Klenowski could likely receive an extension to that filing date. “I would feel comfortable with that,” Vanco said.

The commissioners then discussed the possible total cost to the county that could arise through the tax appeal process.

Fiscal Director Toby Rohlin asked if the commitment to this process was open-ended.

“Until the appeals are done, I would say (yes),” Vanco responded.

“Going in, you could toss out any number you want,” Eggleston said. Vanco expressed a desire to discuss issues surrounding cost in greater depth.

“It might be a very high number, it might not be,” said Eggleston. “There’s no guarantees.”