Board grants tax break to church gymnasium

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders overwhelmingly supported a church’s request Tuesday to cut a tax break for its Strasburg gymnasium.

The Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 to adopt an ordinance that adds the Tight’n Up gymnasium on East King Street in Strasburg to the list of properties exempt from local real estate tax. Liberty Baptist Church owns the property and opened the non-profit gymnasium about a year ago. Supporters have said the facility serves as an outreach for local residents but does not compete with other gymnasiums.

The exemption takes effect immediately but the gymnasium would still need to pay some taxes owed to the county. The county gives up roughly $1,700 in taxes it would receive from the gymnasium – a small fraction of the total revenue collected each year. Supporters of the gymnasium say the service the facility provides greatly exceeds the revenue the county loses through the tax exemption.

Some supervisors agreed that the county should routinely review tax-exempt properties to make sure their uses have not changed and disqualify them from the break.

The board had tabled the request at its May 3 meeting and asked administrative officials to bring back information on how other localities handle tax exemption requests. The board had not planned to take action on the request Tuesday but rather the agenda included a general discussion about tax exemptions. District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker made the motion to put the gynmasium’s request on the agenda. Walker pointed out that the board had received the information requested and they didn’t need to delay action. Other supervisors agreed with Walker and they added the motion to the agenda.

Information provided shows that Page and Warren Counties do not consider tax exemptions beyond those identified in state law.  Rockingham County and Winchester do allow such exemptions from local real estate taxes. Which local agencies consider and approve such exemptions differs by locality.

The state allows localities to decide whether or not to grant tax-exemption requests from owners of qualifying properties.

The county defers approximately $51,101 in tax revenue from 12 entities that own a total of 27 parcels. Each of the 12 entities received tax-exempt status as approved by the Board of Supervisors since 2001.

The following is a list of the entities approved by supervisors for the tax break, the year and the amount deferred:

• Hottel Keller Memorial Inc., 2001, $11,748

• Wayside Museum/Hupps Hill LLC, 2005, $10,454

• Search Inc. Group Home, 2007, $1,340

• Shenandoah County Pregnancy Center, 2009, $1,459

• Shenandoah County Free Clinic, 2010, $6,522

• Search Inc. Thrift Store, 2010, $1,812

• Shenandoah Valley Teen Challenge, 2013, $4,392

• Edinburg Heritage Foundation, 2013, $1,226

• Hupps Hill LLC, 2017, $11,004

• St. Johns Bosco Catholic Diocese, 2017, $1,104

• Tight’n Up LLC/Liberty Baptist Church, 2018, $1,764

The list provided by county staff to the Board of Supervisors notes that Bowman Shannon Cultural Arts Center no longer qualifies for tax-exempt status as of 2017. The tax exempt status for the property known as Hupp’s Hill had lapsed for a few years until the board renewed the designation at the request of the Bernstein Foundation.