YMCA of the Rockies plans to appeal tax ruling
TABERNASH – The YMCA of the Rockies should be paying property taxes for both its Grand and Larimer county locations, according to a Board of Assessment Appeals decision released this week. The case was the latest in a series of property-tax appeals the YMCA has been involved in since 2005. If Grand County’s success in the case were to stick, the YMCA in Grand County would be required to pay about $1.98 million in property taxes dating back to 2002, according to Grand County Treasurer Christina Whitmer. About 60 percent of those funds would be due to the East Grand School District. But the YMCA is already planning to take the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, according to YMCA spokesperson Holly Collingwood. “We were very surprised,” she said of the outcome. “At this point, we do intend to appeal. We truly believe we are a charitable organization. We are disappointed in the ruling because it didn’t appropriately apply Colorado law.” The loss would also mean paying Larimer County roughly $2.7 million in back property taxes. Lodging and recreation The YMCA of the Rockies has been setting aside tax funds in an account during the appeals process, during which it has not been required to pay property taxes, according to Collingwood. If the YMCA had to pay past and future taxes on its Rocky Mountain properties, ultimately, “It would hinder our ability to serve our mission,” she said. Officials in both Grand and Larimer counties have argued that YMCA operations in their respective counties should not be tax exempt for their lodging and recreation offerings, which compete with other lodging facilities offering similar amenities. The counties argued that although the YMCA offers religious and family oriented activities, this does not qualify them for exemptions. YMCA originally claimed its tax exempt status in December 2003, at which time the Property Tax Administrator granted a religious exemption for operating in a “religious” and “charitable” nature. The YMCA is a “Christian organization with a Christian mission. YMCA claims to provide charitable gifts by offering educational programs, creating a Christian environment including religious services, providing the Kidney Center, supplying handicap accessible facilities, helping establish young people in life through character development and lessening the burdens of government by providing facilities free of charge or for a nominal fee to government agencies,” reads the Board of Assessment Appeals factual findings. The 5,000-acre nonprofit 501(c)3 YMCA of the Rockies “year-round family vacation and conference center” in Grand County has 52 cabins, 173 lodging rooms, four yurts, 41 campsites, as well as staff housing, an indoor pool, gymnasium, a library, a skate rink, trails, dining halls, laundromat, chapel, conference facility, maintenance and administration building. Dueling appeals After Grand and Larimer counties successfully appealed the organization’s religious status in a 2006 case, the YMCA instead sought a charitable tax exemption for all of its Grand County property, save for the year-round staff housing property and the private concessionaire areas such as the photo park and horse stables. Contrary to a third ruling, the most recent ruling found that the organization is not entitled to the charitable exemption. The Grand County YMCA ranch employs about 280 seasonal summer workers, 50 full-time workers year-round, and about 90 summer volunteers. The lodging facilities available for rent are “purposely sparsely decorated, with the majority lacking televisions, to encourage family interaction,” reads testimony from Neil Nicholl, president of the YMCA of the USA. During the three-day June hearing in Denver, with Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola and Assistant County Attorney Bob Franek representing Grand County, Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert testified that he “does not consider YMCA to be a charity.” He, like other witnesses in DiCola’s case, compared the YMCA to other operations that are taxed. “Winding River Ranch is hundreds of acres in size and immediately adjacent to a National Park with a wide range of accommodations, including RVs, campers, huts, and full-facility cabins,” the order recounts Weydert’s testimony. The Grand Lake-area resort also offers religious facilities and services, cross-country skiing, nature educational activities and a staffed craft area, he said. Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a private for-profit resort, offers hiking, biking, fishing, interpretive programs and wedding areas for guests. It has a library, recreation room geared to kids, a pool and no televisions in rooms, according to testimony from Winter Park-Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Catherine Ross. Although it is not considered a “religious”-based operation, the owners “donate extensively to the community,” she said. Both Ross and Granby Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Brenner said they market YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch the same as they do other lodging properties. The Inn at SilverCreek holds conferences and markets to families, youth groups and church groups. For government agencies, it makes conference facilities available at no fee or a nominal fee of no more than $100, said witness Cheryl Shipe, director of operations of Alderwood Management Group, which manages the Inn at SilverCreek. “YMCA is its largest competitor,” Shipe’s testimony reads. The Board of Assessment Appeals ruling was based on a “lack of persuasive evidence regarding participation of families in charitable activities” on the part of the YMCA, according to the Order. The Board also noted that “sufficient record-keeping and information on YMCA’s actual use of property” was not presented in a manner that proved their percentage of charitable use. “It is impossible to know exactly how many hours qualified for non-exempt use,” the Order reads. Although more than half of the local YMCA’s back property taxes would be collected by the East Grand School District, Superintendent Nancy Karas said the years of uncollected taxes would be obligated in various ways. It’s possible some of the money could come back to taxpayers in the form of a reduction in property tax, she said, for the portion of past school bond payments that would be covered by the YMCA. Exactly how much of the money would be leftover for general school-district operations has not yet been calculated, as the YMCA gears up for another appeal. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.