Veterans support group seeks tax break on house

A nonprofit group that helps U.S. military veterans wants a tax break on its house in Strasburg.

Insideout Community Ministries Inc. has requested that Shenandoah County grant an exemption from paying real estate and personal property taxes on the organization’s house at 120 Tracy Drive in Oxbow Estates. The Board of Supervisors plans to discuss the request at its work session Thursday.

Group President Mary Weest-Guilefuss made the request in February after the Clearwater, Florida-based organization bought the property from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in July 2014. Weest-Guilefuss explained Tuesday that the organization acquired the home through a department program aimed at helping veterans find permanent housing. A veteran lives in the house now, she said.

Of the veterans aided by the organization, 90 percent are recently discharged from active duty, Weest-Guilefuss said.

“So what that means to them is essentially they’re unemployed,” Weest-Guilefuss said. “So they do get to keep their health benefits but they don’t have an income, so depending on what their savings was like or what their situation was, what their disability is, whether or not they can go out and find a job quickly, they usually end up losing their home.”

The organization qualifies a veteran based on his or her potential rather than credit status, she said. Under the program the veteran pays the hard cost of the home such as utilities as well as a monthly occupancy fee.

“We don’t place families in homes that they cannot afford,” Weest-Guilefuss said. “That would defeat the purpose.”

The organization fights for tax exemptions, more so in some states than others, to help cover the cost of homes. Weest-Guilefuss acknowledged that an exemption means the burden falls back on other taxpayers.

“The reason we fight so hard for these property-tax exemptions is because it means everything to us,” Weest-Guilefuss said “If we don’t have to pay … the property taxes on that home, then that allows us to put that back into the kitty for that house.”

“They went to war for us; they deserve this,” she added. “They deserve this nice house. They deserve to feel whole again.”

The latest assessment of Insideout Ministries’ property valued it at $286,900. The county stands to lose $1,635 in tax revenue, given the current rate of 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value, if the board grants the request.

State law allows the county to classify property as tax-exempt by adopting an ordinance. The county must hold a public hearing on the request and could do so Sept. 22, then act on the matter Oct. 13.

Insideout Ministries provided a letter from the Internal Revenue Service confirming the organization is exempt from federal income tax as a public charity, according to information provided by the county. The organization also indicates that it has a policy against donations and does not receive grants. The charity also completed a series of questions the county asks of each entity requesting an exemption.

Supervisors have granted tax exemptions to properties owned by nonprofit groups in the past – nine since 2001, according to county information. Nonprofits granted exemptions have included museums, clinics and arts centers, in historic homes and large facilities. While the county and some towns lose tax revenue through the exemptions, the community receives services from the nonprofit groups.

The value of the nine properties granted the exemption since 2001 totals approximately $7.91 million. At the current real estate tax rate of 57 cents per $100 of assessed value, the properties would generate approximately $45,000 in revenue for the year. That amount equates to a fraction of revenue the county does collect in real estate taxes in a year.

The following is a list of nonprofits with tax-exempt status, date granted and the latest values of their property:
• Hottel-Keller Memorial Inc. (Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum) on Back Road, Mt. Olive; Oct. 1, 2001; $2.37 million
• Wayside Museum of American History – Hupps Hill, Strasburg; May 10, 2005; $1.91 million
• Shenandoah County Search Inc. group home; 5742 Main St., Mount Jackson; Sept. 11, 2007; $268,300
• Shenandoah County Pregnancy Center, 28 Cedar Wood Lane, Woodstock; Jan. 13, 2009; $291,500
• Shenandoah County Free Clinic, 124 Valley Vista Drive, Woodstock; Jan. 26, 2010; $1.32 million
• Shenandoah County Search Inc. thrift store, 5982 Main St., Mount Jackson; Sept. 28, 2010; $298,600
• Shenandoah Valley Teen Challenge, Basye; Aug. 13, 2013; $708,400
• Edinburg Heritage Foundation, 106 High St., Edinburg; Oct. 22, 2013; $418,500
• Bowman Shannon Cultural Arts Center, 5998 Main St., Mount Jackson; Dec. 9, 2014; $319,700

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com