York County Board of Equalization addresses property tax exemptions; Henderson’s Grace Children’s Home defends exemptions

YORK COUNTY – This week, the York County Commissioners, convened as the board of equalization, considered the many property tax exemptions in the county.

The following is the list of exempt property owners York County Assessor Kurt Bulgrin presented to the commissioners for consideration, based on their earlier exemptions. Exemptions can be allowed if they meet the criteria of being used for religious, educational and/or philanthropic purposes:

  • Greenwood Cemetery Association, one parcel
  • Blue Valley Community Action Inc., two parcels
  • Columbus Rescue Mission inc., one parcel
  • Grace Children’s home, 12 parcels
  • Gresham Community Club, two parcels
  • Henderson Health Care Services Inc., seven parcels
  • Kilgore Memorial Library Foundation Inc., one parcel
  • Lincoln-Lancaster County Child, one parcel
  • Living Water Rescue Mission, one parcel
  • Masonic Temple Company, one parcel
  • Mosaic, three parcels
  • Region V Foundation, eight parcels
  • York Adopt A Pet, two parcels
  • York General Health Care Services, nine parcels
  • York Lodge #1024 BPOE, one parcel
  • Henderson Heritage & Tourism, one parcel
  • McCool Junction Iron Horse Station G518, two parcels
  • York University, 44 parcels
  • First Congregation Church of Arborville, one parcel
  • Arbor Drive Community Church, four parcels
  • Assembly of God Church of York, one parcel
  • Benedict Community Church, one parcel
  • Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, three parcels
  • Bethesda Mennonite Church, one parcel
  • Calvary Bible Church, one parcel
  • Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, two parcels
  • Council 1708 building Corporation, one parcel
  • East Hill Church of Christ, five parcels
  • Ebenezer United Methodist Church, one parcel
  • Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, four parcels
  • Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, one parcel
  • First Evangelical Lutheran Church of McCool, one parcel
  • First Presbyterian Church of York, one parcel
  • First United Evangelical Lutheran Church of York, one parcel
  • First United Methodist Church of York, two parcels
  • German Evangelical Lutheran Church, one parcel
  • Grace Mission Inc., one parcel
  • Great Plains Community Church, York Campus, one parcel
  • Lifewalk Church of Christ Inc., one parcel
  • McCool Junction Community Church, two parcels
  • Mennonite Brethren Church, four parcels
  • United Methodist Church of Bradshaw, two parcels
  • Ministerios Pentecostes, one parcel
  • Nebraska Evangelical Lutheran High School, seven parcels
  • Peace Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, two parcels
  • Pentecostal Church of God, one parcel
  • Presbyterian Church of Gresham, two parcels
  • Saint Patrick Catholic Church, one parcel
  • John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Waco, one parcel
  • Joseph’s Church, one parcel
  • Trustees of Councils Union Church, one parcel
  • York Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one parcel
  • York Evangelical Free Church, one parcel

Bulgrin explained how qualified property owners must reapply for their exemptions in each year divisible by four. During the other years, the exemptions are pretty much automatic, unless a status has changed.

Bulgrin read the addresses of all the exempt properties, as some entities owned multiple parcels.

He also explained how some exemptions were newly deemed as “partials,” where the majority of the property is exempt but small areas were placed on the tax rolls. For example, one church property now has an area being taxed because of income-generating daycare operations. And another had a portion taxed because an area is being rented out as office space for another entity.

His recommended exemptions were approved.

Then they moved to the issue of some exemption applications Bulgrin was recommending for denial.

One denial was a simple housekeeping issue, he said, with a property at York University. He said conversations were already held with the university about this property, with those officials agreeing. Again, this was a simple act of cleaning up records.

Assessor Bulgrin did recommend denial of exemption for numerous properties owned by Grace Children’s Home in Henderson.

“I’ve received enough information from individuals in Henderson who say these properties are no longer being used as they had been,” Bulgrin said. “They are not being used for the purposes they historically had been. Children are not living in these houses, they say. They say people are living in these houses and they are renting them, which they should not be. I thought it was time for Grace Children’s Home to present to the board of equalization why these properties should continue to be tax exempt.”

In past decades, Grace Children’s Home was a residential institution where at-risk kids lived while they wards of the state.

“None of these are meeting the exemption status? Is that what you are saying?” Commissioner Randy Obermier asked.

“Yes,” Bulgrin responded. “I sent them notice of this meeting so they could come here and answer questions.”

Mark Danielson, director of Grace Children’s Home, was present.

“We have a lot of properties listed here and we would like to speak to each,” Danielson told the commissioners. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about what we do as our residential mission has changed somewhat. Grace Children’s Home operates as a religious exempt organization and the mission is to support and care for families with at-risk children. Today, there are 396,000 foster children in America. Foster care is a symptom of a greater problem. We are licensed by the state as a child placing agency, so we license and support placements. We address the root causes of the bigger problems, create multi-faceted strategies, including working to reduce poverty, provide education, provide intervention programs. What do we do besides placements? We provide post-adoption support.

“And last year, we embarked on providing 300 equine therapy sessions,” Danielson said. “We are now on track to do 500 equine therapy sessions this year, with at-risk kids. We also provide short- and mid-term housing for those who are unable to secure affordable housing. We have never received one dollar for rent. If they (people living in the houses) can make a donation, that’s between them and God.

“We provide extensive training and content regarding trauma behaviors in children,” Danielson continued. “As a Christian organization, we are committed to helping with resources we can use to intersect their lives. So the question is how are we using these properties?”

“That is correct,” Bulgrin said, asking Danielson to address each one.

Danielson said two parcels make up an activity field. “Of all our properties, these two would have the least connection to the work we do with children. It is used to park equipment and property which is used to care for the other properties. It is also open for kids to play there but it is least connected to the mission.”

He said one residence is used to house families of employees of Grace and to conduct training. He said it has also been used as place to build relationships between foster kids and their biological families with the intent toward reunification. Danielson said this property is not receiving any income.

Another parcel, he said, is a large one which includes houses and a maintenance building. He said one house is used for emergency temporary housing and for employees, with no rent collected. He said that particular house has also be used to conduct foster training sessions. Another house is used for foster families caring for children, which was also recently used to help someone who had lost their house in a tornado. Right now, he said they have a family caring for an at-risk teen, who are staying there rent free.

He said another house is used for an at-risk young family who couldn’t afford housing; they are living there rent free.

“There is also a building which is being used for a non-profit daycare,” Danielson said. “They reimburse us $300 a month for utilities which doesn’t cover the expense. We receive no rent. And there is also the maintenance building which is a workshop for our equipment and upstairs is a gym which the public has access to.

“Another property, one house, is a residence for a worker and three adopted youth,” he continued. “The field that is there, which is fairly large, is being used for a community garden and they are giving away the produce. We also have a young man who has a beehive operation there. There is no income coming in on this property.”

He said another house is currently being used by an employee and it also includes a full production studio they use to create training/informational videos for their programs.

“And there is an empty lot, which we mow,” Danielson said further. “There is a swing set there. I won’t claim it needs to be exempt due to that.”

He said one parcel is used for their equine therapy program “where all the charges are provided free of charge. Many of them would not participate if they had to pay because the families wouldn’t be able to afford it. We serve individuals in Clay, Merrick, York and Hamilton Counties, as well as one child from Omaha. And that program is continuing to grow.”

Danielson said Grace also owns another house which is occupied by an employee and his family.

“There is also a lot where a house was torn down,” he continued. “There is a garage there where we store equipment and supplies. And there is another house currently being used by an employee.”

“How many paid employees does Grace have?” Bulgrin asked.

Danielson said there are five people on the payroll and two who are contracted.

“How many kids are receiving services at this time?” Bulgrin asked.

Danielson said about 30.

Bulgrin continued to ask specifics. Obermier suggested maybe Bulgrin should formulate the questions and send them to Danielson so he would have time to provide the specifics.

“There seems to be an assertion about the use of the land to serve children,” Danielson said. “This isn’t like we have a children’s home (which they used to have), that is now outside the scope of what we do.”

Commissioner Jack Sikes asked if there are any kids being served because of court orders, because the state pays fees for those services. “And you say you have employees living there but it’s not a part of their salary, so how do they do that with their taxes?”

“That’s between them and the IRS,” Danielson said.

“Well, you have to put a value to it or they can’t file,” Sikes said.

“Our employees make very little and it’s like a ministry and these are parsonages,” Danielson responded.

Obermier read the requirements for a property to be exempt and again suggested Bulgrin formulate his questions in writing, giving Danielson time to provide specifics.

The commissioners postponed action regarding the exemption applications filed by Grace Children’s Home, in order to get that additional information.





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