City: No more tax breaks
Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Suffolk City Council on Wednesday denied an application for tax-exempt status by a local retirement community and placed a moratorium on future such applications.
Lake Prince Woods, owned by a nonprofit organization, had applied for the status for its 172-acre campus off Kings Fork Road. Approval would have meant it could keep its $307,000 annual tax bill rather than sending it to the treasurer’s office.
“Lake Prince is not making this request in order to add more to the bottom line,” Executive Director Judy Raymond said. She added that the savings would have helped reduce operating losses and help offset more than $4 million each year in financial assistance to residents and un-reimbursed care.
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Ralph Howell, chairman of the advisory council for Lake Prince Woods, noted financial benefits the community has brought to the city, including spending by the retirees who live there.
“Look at this not just as a tax abatement, but as a tax incentive for a viable economic engine,” he said.
The last of three speakers in the public hearing, Claudia Lee, spoke against the tax exemption.
“My elderly mother could not afford to move in there,” she said. “I’m tired of the taxes getting dumped back on me.”
City Council members were not moved by the appeals from Lake Prince Woods supporters. They heard a presentation from Finance Director Anne Seward on the city’s growing amount of tax exemptions. Approving the application from Lake Prince Woods alone could have meant adding a half a penny to the tax rate or cutting seven full-time positions, she said.
Property that is tax-free makes up 13.5 percent of the city’s total taxable value, she added. The value of exemptions has grown 70 percent in the last 10 years.
The vote to deny Lake Prince Woods’ application was unanimous, but Councilman Mike Duman voted against the moratorium on future applications.
“I still don’t feel it’s necessary to have a moratorium because we have the ability to say no,” he said. Previously, council members voted on each request separately after a public hearing.
Duman said he thought the requirements should be made more stringent without banning exemptions completely.
“It (a moratorium) makes it easier for council, I think, because we don’t have to make any tough decisions,” he said. “Me personally, I’m prepared to make some tough decisions.”
Other council members noted the moratorium is not necessarily permanent.
“This can be done away with at any time at our own choice when the economic climate is better,” Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said.