Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Assembly: More work needed on tax-exempt rule


Nearly a dozen residents turned out at Tuesday’s Haines Borough Assembly meeting to roundly criticize an ordinance that would change how nonprofits apply and qualify for property tax exemptions.

  Supporters of nonprofits called the ordinance “messy,” “confusing,” “stiff” and “cumbersome,” saying the legislation would put undue financial and administrative hardship on organizations whose resources are already stretched thin.

  “Nonprofits bring a lot of money to our community, and that may get you thinking that they have a lot of money,” said Leslie Evenden, who sits on the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation advisory board.

“But what’s going to happen is they are not going to be able to get funds to pay property taxes. They are going to have to draw those resources from other services that they are providing to our community that you’re not providing as a borough,” Evenden said.

  The assembly voted unanimously to send the ordinance to its Finance Committee for further review, but also scheduled it for its second public hearing on April 14.

  The finance committee will meet at 3 p.m. Monday to discuss potential changes.

Under current code, six properties have community purpose exemptions that relieve them of paying property taxes: Southeast Alaska State Fair, Port Chilkoot Parade Ground (owned by Alaska Indian Arts), American Bald Eagle Foundation, Haines Animal Rescue Kennel, Charles Anway Cabin (owned by the Chilkat Valley Historical Foundation) and Takshanuk Watershed Council.

  The proposed ordinance would remove those nonprofits from code and make them reapply for community purpose exemption status every year. It also would more narrowly define what qualifies as a “community purpose,” and take decision-making power away from the assembly and give it to borough staff.

Currently, community purpose exemptions are granted by an assembly vote.

  “It’s attempting to take the decision away from our elected officials and place it in the hands of staff,” said Sara Chapell, development director for KHNS.

  Former Mayor Stephanie Scott suggested the borough conduct a cost-benefit analysis of what the burden on nonprofits would be compared to the additional property tax revenue collected by the borough.

  Brad Ryan, director of the Southeast Alaska Watershed Council and former executive director of the Takshanuk Watershed Coalition, offered concrete figures for how much money the two watershed coalitions brought into Haines in 2014: $275,000 in payroll to nine local employees, $13,600 in rent to a local property owner and $120,000 in contract work.

  “I feel that there’s a little bit of a negative vibe toward nonprofits as always taking money, looking for handouts. And I’m here to suggest – as I suggested to your economic development director – that nonprofits are actually an economic driver in the community and that should be looked at,” Ryan said.

Takshanuk executive director Meredith Pochardt said she participated in all of the stakeholder meetings that preceded creation of the ordinance and its accompanying policy, but didn’t see many of the stakeholder comments reflected in the legislation.

“I think there was some good feedback that was developed during those and I don’t see much of it in the policy that is accompanying the ordinance tonight,” Pochardt said.

  Specifically, Pochardt said properties that contain or represent recreational, social and environmental values need to be added to the list of those that qualify for the exemption.

 Manager David Sosa, who crafted the ordinance and policy with the borough attorney, acknowledged that he told Pochardt in previous meetings he would make that change but had forgotten to do so.


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