Board OKs tax break for Hupps Hill

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders restored a tax break to Hupps Hill – months after they rejected the owner’s request for a refund.

The Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 at its meeting Tuesday to grant an exemption from local real estate taxes for Hupp’s Hill at 33229 Old Valley Pike in Strasburg. Hupps Hill operates as an enterprise of The Bernstein Family Foundation.

The property transferred from the Wayside Museum of American History and Arts Inc. to the foundation in February 2011. Hupps Hill remained under the operation of the Bernstein Foundation and also became a state-certified visitors center. The tax exemption did not transfer from the previous owner to the foundation. The board voted 6-0 in August to delay action on the request at least until the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation could produce a new lease agreement with Hupps Hill.

Since the August meeting, Strasburg worked with the Bernstein Foundation on a zero-cost lease for the town to continue as a visitors’ center with a museum, Civil War trenches and trails. Town officials asked the county to grant the tax-exempt status so the zero-cost lease can be formalized and the visitors’ center can continue to operate.

The 2016 real estate assessment listed the Hupps Hill property value at $1.83 million that generates tax revenue of approximately $11,005 per year.

Supervisors voted 4-2 at the Aug. 9 meeting against a motion to give a donation of almost $49,000 to Hupps Hill LLC as requested by The Bernstein Family Foundation – real estate taxes the organization paid to the county from 2012-2015 and the first half of 2016. At the time, opponents of the request expressed concern that The Bernstein Family Foundation of Washington, D.C., does not donate to Shenandoah County-based nonprofit organizations or charities. Vice Chairman Richard Walker and District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese, District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey and District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz voted against the motion to grant the donation. Chairman Conrad Helsley and District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker voted in favor of the motion to grant the request.

Helsley argued at the August meeting that Hupps Hill, which serves as a home to the visitors’ center, benefits the county.

Supervisors granted a tax exemption on the property in May 2005 in the name of Wayside Museum of American History and Arts Inc. At the time the property was assessed at roughly $612,000. The property transferred to Hupps Hill LLC in February 2011. The tax exemption did not transfer and the owner began paying taxes on the property.

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