Thursday, July 10, 2014

Times Reports Portage Chamber Seeks Property Tax Exemption

From the Northwest Indiana Times:

Greater Portage Chamber of Commerce officials argued Tuesday in favor of tax-exempt status for its office building in a case that could affect its peers in Valparaiso.

Chamber Executive Director Terry Hufford argued during a local hearing before the Indiana Board of Tax Review that, while the chamber does not directly contribute money to charitable causes and focuses primarily on chamber-related business, its contribution to the community qualifies under the law for the exemption.

In addition to promoting the community and encouraging economic development, the chamber solicits donations for and uses its resources to aid several charitable efforts including the Gabriel Horn Homeless Shelter, a local food pantry and a student-in-need lunch program, he said.

Attorney Christopher Buckley, who represents the Porter County assessor's office, lauded the chamber's efforts, but said they do not qualify for a tax exemption under the law.

Both he and chamber attorney Gregg Sobkowski agreed there are no prior cases dealing with the question of whether chambers of commerce are entitled to tax exemptions.

The definition of a charitable cause as it applies to this case is that the effort must relieve human want and suffering, Buckley said.

Hufford said Tuesday the chamber's primary purpose is to see to it that its 330 business members remain in business. All the assistance provided to charitable groups is secondary, he said.

While the chamber rents nearly half of its 3,000-square-foot building to nonprofits, Buckley said the chamber collects rent from those groups.

The Portage chamber twice has been denied tax exempt status on its building by the Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals, Hufford said.

This is the case, despite that the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce has a tax exemption on its building, which Snyder said predates him taking office nearly four years ago.

Snyder said he plans to see how the state tax board responds to the Portage request before deciding whether to pursue changes involving the Valparaiso chamber.