The Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals has granted YMCA of the Rockies a full property tax exemption for religious use after originally denying the exemption.
The ruling means that YMCA of the Rockies will avoid paying upward of $200,000 in property taxes annually for its 2,187-acre Snow Mountain Ranch, located outside of Granby.
“We are pleased that the Board of Assessment Appeals has aligned their decision with the Court of Appeals and lifted up the YMCA of the Rockies’ sincere Christian Mission,” said Kent Meyer, CEO of YMCA of the Rockies, in a press release. “This ruling correctly applies both statutory law and Colorado Supreme Court rulings for other nonprofit camps and conference centers to YMCA of the Rockies.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals struck down the board’s original ruling.
The latest decision aligns with the Colorado Property Tax Administrator’s previous decision to grant YMCA of the Rockies religious and charitable exemptions.
The board decided not to rule on the YMCA’s charitable tax exemption, though Laura Fields with YMCA of the Rockies said that the additional exemption will have no additional benefit for the organization.
County Attorney Anthony “Jack” DiCola will meet with Larimer County attorneys this weekend to determine how the two counties will move ahead, though at this time the county does not have a position on the ruling, said Robert Franek, assistant county attorney.
The decision, issued Aug. 1, is retroactive to the 2002 tax year, Fields said. YMCA of the Rockies stopped paying property taxes in 2005, and has instead been putting the money it would have paid aside into savings.
If the county chooses not to appeal the latest decision, or if its appeal fails, it will owe YMCA of the Rockies the total amount of property tax paid for 2002, 2003 and half of 2004 for its Snow Mountain Ranch Property, Fields said, though she couldn’t say exactly how much that would be.
Court of Appeals finds flaws in reversal
The Colorado Court of Appeals’ decision to vacate the Board of Assessment Appeals’ ruling on YMCA of the Rockies’ religious exemption found that it was overly narrow and prohibited by the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The board aligned with the court’s decision in its Aug. 1 ruling, citing the necessity of avoiding a “narrow construction of property tax exemptions.”
The board also cited the general assembly’s decision that any activities of a religious organization that promote its religious purposes constitute “religious worship.”
“Applying the law as directed by the Court of Appeals to the facts of this case,” the board wrote, “the Board holds that the YMCA is entitled to a religious purpose exemption for all portions of the properties within its applications.”
The board also held that the properties were not being used for private gain or corporate profit.
Counties’ dissent relies on Illinois law
Both the Grand County and Larimer County boards of commissioners, which appealed the Property Tax Administrator’s original decision to allow the exemption, focused on Illinois’ religious exemption statute and its similarity of Colorado’s.
The counties sought to prove that the YMCA had not furnished sufficient proof of religious use for a tax exemption and argued that the case would be resolved against the YMCA under Illinois law. The counties cited cases in the Land of Lincoln’s Court of Appeals that found “Christian service” as overbroad in constituting religious purpose for a tax exemption.
The board ultimately decided that Colorado’s statutes require “a different analysis” than those in Illinois, and that, under Colorado statutes, public officials may not inquire “as to whether particular activities of religious organizations constitute religious worship.”
The counties may now petition the Court of Appeals for judicial review. They have 49 days to file a notice of appeal.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.