County board’s tie vote stalls out decision on Grace Children’s Home tax exemptions

YORK COUNTY – The York County Commissioners, sitting as the board of equalization, revisited the applications for tax exemption filed by Grace Children’s Home in Henderson when they met this week. But with only four sitting members at this time and a tie vote in the end, a decision was stalled out.

Several weeks ago, the board met with York County Assessor Kurt Bulgrin, to discuss all the property tax exemption applications and make decisions as to whether to affirm the exemptions or deny them.

When all was said and done, the only decisions left to be made had to do with numerous properties in Henderson which are owned by Grace Children’s Home. Bulgrin asked a representative of Grace to meet with the board of equalization, as he had numerous questions about whether the properties were still meeting exempt criteria.

The residential properties were once used to house children who were wards of the state. Over the years, the usage changed but representatives of Grace said the properties are still used to house staff members, families with foster kids and also provide space to further their work in foster care and adoption. They argued the properties should remain exempt from property taxes, as they have in the past.

Because Bulgrin had extensive questions about the different parcels, the commissioners said he should have further conversations with Grace officials and then bring forward that information at a later date.

Bulgrin provided extensive information to the commissioners this week, as Grace officials and the entity’s attorney answered his questions about each parcel. Bulgrin acknowledged he initially recommended denial of tax exemptions for the properties, but was now putting the matter in their hands as all the questions had been answered.

“So they have answered everything we asked of them, correct?” asked Commissioner Chairman Randy Obermier.

Bulgrin said they had.

“Have you changed your original recommendations?” asked Commissioner Daniel Grotz.

“I will let you gentlemen decide,” Bulgrin said. “The state department of revenue will also likely look at this.”

“Should we decide to deny their exemption applications, can they then take it to TERC (state tax equalization review commission)?” asked Commissioner Grotz.

“Yes, there is that appeal process,” Assessor Bulgrin said.

“And we did approve (for exemption) some of the Grace properties, correct?” Commissioner Grotz asked.

“Yes,” Bulgrin responded.

“I guess to me, they did answer all our questions and they look like they are doing it (qualifying for tax exemption),” Obermier said. “I would recommend we approve them (all the Grace properties) across the board, for exemption, as they gave us the answers to everything we asked of them.”

“I do question some of the exemptions for houses where individuals are living,” said Grotz. “That, to me, is somewhat of a gray area.”

“Can I ask what the gray area would be?” Obermier asked.

“The houses where the staff members are living, those are the ones I question for exemption,” Grotz responded.

“How would we view that differently from the exemptions we give to churches who have a parsonage or the exemptions we gave to York University for properties where staff members live?” asked Obermier. “If we approve those types of exemptions somewhere else, how do we look at these differently? But, yes, it is up to us.”

“Are the families in those houses employees?” asked Commissioner LeRoy Ott.

“Yes,” Grotz said.

“Well, Grace isn’t profiting from these,” Ott said.

“I will make a motion to approve all their tax exemptions,” Obermier said, “based on all the answers to our questions.”

Ott seconded the motion.

Grotz and Commissioner Jack Sikes voted no. Obermier and Ott voted yes.

“So the motion fails,” Obermier said.

Because there is a vacancy on the board at this time, due to the unexpected death of Commissioner Stan Boehr, the situation stalled out due to the tie.

“I had earlier asked the Nebraska Department of Revenue what would happen if the board denied the exemptions, and they said the properties would go back on the tax rolls,” Bulgrin explained. “Then Grace would appeal the decision with TERC and TERC can decide. But some TERC hearings have been pending for years. But with a tie like this, I’m not sure what happens.”

“What is the timeframe for this to be decided by us?” asked Obermier.

Bulgrin said it has to be decided at the county level by June 1.

Obermier acknowledged how a new county commissioner will soon be appointed – on May 8 – and that person’s first commissioner meeting will be May 14.

“We can schedule another public hearing for May 28, when we have a fifth commissioner, and take a vote then,” Obermier said, noting the tie was not going to be broken without a fifth member. The later date was designated in order to fulfill public hearing publication requirements and for the new member to be brought up to speed. “And then we look at all this again.”

So for now, Grace Children’s Home tax exemptions remain up in the air, until the tie-vote can be broken.

 

 

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