Church seeks tax break for gym

Shenandoah County leaders plan to consider giving a church a tax break on the gymnasium it runs in Strasburg.

Liberty Baptist Church owns Tight’n Up LLC at 239 E. King St. The church submitted a request to the county to designate the property as exempt from local real estate taxes. The gymnasium offers recreational activities for youth, conducts Bible studies and features guest speakers, according to information provided by the county.

Shenandoah County would give up roughly $1,764 in real estate tax revenue from the property if the Board of Supervisors grants the church’s request. The board must hold a public hearing on the request before supervisors can consider adding the property to those exempt from real estate taxes. The board could hold the hearing at its April 24 meeting and act on the request May 3.

The board takes up such exemption requests roughly once a year. The county defers more than $1 million a year in revenue for properties exempt from local real estate taxes.

Church representatives recently spoke to the Board of Supervisors about the request. Pastor Keith Warren talked about how he and Robert Westcoat created the gymnasium as a place for young people to gather and stay out of trouble.

“We opened it up for two reasons: If you talk to Sheriff (Timothy) Carter, you’ll find out that Shenandoah County has a tremendous heroin problem and with two breweries going into Strasburg, I can see an alcohol problem started,” Warren said. “So what we wanted to do, is we wanted to start – Rob wanted to start a gym in which we can get the kids before they get to that.”

The gymnasium sees up to 50 people per day, Warren said. Older adults also use the facility, he added.

Board Chairman Conrad Helsley asked Warren if the gymnasium competes with other similar facilities in the area.

“We’re not up for competition,” Warren said. “We just want to reach the kids. We try to have it the best that we can, the best equipment, and the thing that amazes us how God worked this all out is all of the equipment that is in the gym right now has been donated to the gym because a lot of the people that donate it make the comment we want to keep the kids off the street.”

Woodstock attorney Paul J. “Jay” Neal Jr. also spoke to the board and compared the church and creation of its limited liability corporation for the gymnasium to the Bernstein Foundation’s action with the museum at Hupp’s Hill. Tax-exempt limited liability corporations are rare but necessary to protect the owner in the event of an accident, Neal explained.

The 2018 real estate assessment values the property, including improvements at $294,000. The property generates annual tax revenue of $1,764, based on the current rate of 60 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Volunteers run the gymnasium and the church operates the facility through donations.

Liberty Baptist Church already is tax exempt. The tax-exempt application checklist states that the gymnasium hosts food drives, Bible studies and other activities for the community.

The gymnasium serves as an outreach center for Strasburg youth. Robert Westcoat manages the gymnasium.

The gymnasium has not been granted an exemption from federal income tax. The gymnasium organized as a limited liability corporation in September 2015. The church bought the building from Byron Brill on Dec. 21, 2017 for $215,000, property records show.