Summit on tax status cancelled

A proposed summit to discuss the tax-exempt status of several local non-profit organizations that was slated for Monday has fallen through because county officials elected not to participate.

According to a statement from Warren County School District Superintendent Dr. William Clark, “the Board of School Directors, through its Solicitor, recently attempted to schedule a tax appeal summit for the evening of September 23rd. The School Board, County Commissioners, the City of Warren, Warren General Hospital, the Rouse Estate, the Crary Home, the YMCA, and the attorneys for each of the preceding parties were all invited to attend the summit to discuss the tax exemption issue, to work to locate points of commonality, and to ultimately assist all parties in resolving the litigation in a cost effective and expeditious manner.

“It was the School Board’s initial understanding that all parties were interested in participating in the summit. However, after preparing an agenda for the summit, the School Board’s Solicitor was informed that neither the Commissioners nor the County’s attorney was willing to participate in the summit. Because the County would have played a significant role in the summit and because all interested parties must be present in order to achieve the objectives set forth in the Resolution, the decision was made to cancel the summit.”

In response, Commissioner John Eggleston said on Friday, “We are just unclear as to what it is they hope to accomplish.”

Further, Eggleston noted that the non-profit organizations have expressed no interest in a payment in lieu of taxes agreement or any other arrangement. “We already met with them once,” he said. “We had a two- or three-hour meeting with them (school board) at the Career Center.”

Clark added, “The School Board retains an interest in holding a summit if and when full participation can be achieved.”

In a letter to the other taxing bodies and non-profit organizations, WCSD Solicitor Christopher Byham wrote that “while it may be possible to conduct the summit in privately/in executive session, it is the School Board’s desire to have the summit be advertised and open to the public, with the understanding that any party could also meet privately or in executive session as necessary to discuss specific legalities or potential settlements with the party’s attorney.”

The letter goes on to explain a potential format for the summit where each party is given 20 to 30 minutes “to discuss the law and facts from that party’s perspective. Following this, a more general discussion would occur to address questions and to identify any areas of commonality.” He speculated that the entire summit would last approximately three hours.

The board passed a resolution in June calling for a summit to allow “the facts and legal issues having bearing on the tax-exempt status of the affected business entities and to identify those factual and legal issues upon which all parties can agree as a means of potentially resolving the litigation or streamlining the litigation so as to minimize the litigation fees for the taxing bodies.”

The Warren County Board of Assessment Appeals initiated the review of non-profit tax exempt status but its efforts were struck down in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas due to procedural issues. The commissioners have elected to refile the county’s intent to examine the tax-exempt status of these non-profit organizations.