Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 26, 2014

Wells’ tax abatement request denied again

By DIANE VANCE, Ledger staff writer | Jun 17, 2014

Three weeks ago, Jefferson County Board of Supervisors denied a $20,000 tax abatement request from Roland Wells on behalf of The Bonnell Project, which includes two properties in Fairfield — the Bonnell Building on the southwest corner of the square, purchased by the nonprofit organization in 2008, and the former St. Mary Catholic Church property on North Third Street, bought three years later.

The Bonnell Project is a nonprofit business incubator that focuses on the 30-and-under crowd, but aims to serve the whole community, Wells explained three weeks ago.

Monday he returned to the board, asking for a smaller tax abatement of $7,356 on a total tax of $13,371.

“Based on the county assessor’s exemption of a percentage of a portion of one of our lots at the Third Street property, we are requesting the equivalent portion of the prior taxes assessed to be abated,” Wells wrote in a handout to the supervisors. “This is only related to the lot that the old school building [Decoursey Hall] is located on.”

Wells said he was interested in economic development for the community, and the Bonnell Project provides space and equipment, such as the commercial kitchen.

“The Bonnell Project encourages younger people to participate in the community,” he said. “Property taxes are a critical piece for us. We’ve paid $10,000 in the past years.

“I’ve found the board of supervisors has in the past three to four years abated property taxes for other charitable organizations that missed deadlines,” he said.

“We’re requesting a 45 percent reduction, but any amount, 30 percent, 25 percent, would be a big help.”

Board of supervisors chairman Dick Reed said Wells was denied three weeks ago because the nonprofit organization had missed the deadline.

“I still feel the same way,” said Reed. “I don’t think anything has changed. It’s not that I don’t care what you are doing. I do. But I get comments on the street about the board can’t be giving away money.”

When Wells said the board has granted tax abatements previously, supervisor Becky Schmitz said that since she’s served on the board (sworn in January 2013), a tax abatement was granted to a church.

“I’m just asking for exemption on a portion of the property, which we all agree is being used for nonprofit,” said Wells.

Supervisor Lee Dimmitt said assistant county attorney Pat McAvan was consulted and he’d replied to the supervisors not to grant abatement because it sets a precedent.

“What year are the taxes for you’re requesting an abatement?” Dimmitt asked.

Wells said for taxes in 2012.

“Our exemption was in place by Jan. 1, 2013,” he said.

Assessor Sheri Blough said an exemption was available for tax year 2012, but no one applied for it.

Schmitz said she was struggling with the setting of a precedent issue.

“I don’t want to send a message that people don’t have to comply with deadlines,” she said.

“It’s a tough call, when asked why we’re not treating everyone the same, it’s hard to recall why we made the choices we did back then,” said Reed.

“If you can look at setting this precedent as supporting the community’s youthful entrepreneurs, not so much as a precedent abating taxes, but supporting youth, that might help,” said Wells.

The board voted 2-1 to not approve tax abatement for The Bonnell Project. Schmitz cast a vote in favor of abating the requested taxes.

Some audience members asked why Dimmitt voted when he had abstained on the issue three weeks ago.

“The vote three weeks ago included the Bonnell Building on Broadway where my wife rents space,” he said. “Today, it was only about the Third Street property, so I don’t have a conflict of interest.”

 

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