Wednesday, June 20, 2007

HHMI Tax Break Extended

Supervisors Support Tax Exemption
Staff to review exemption process every three years
By Erika Jacobson
June 13, 2007

The Board of Supervisors reaffirmed the tax exemption status on the land of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute (HHMRI) during its Tuesday, June 5, meeting.
While the six Republicans on the board were vocal in their opposition to the research-and-development institute’s exemptions when they first took office in 2004, only three remained opposed during Tuesday’s vote.
"At the end of the day, I felt the resolution of support of the promise that the prior board made to the HHMRI should be honored," Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) who made the motion to reaffirm, said.
As part of the motion, the board also directed staff to detail the process and the requirements for tax exemptions every three years.
"I believe those tax exemptions should be renewed at least once in a term to make sure those exemptions are still in the vein they were given in and are still in the best interests of the citizens," Tulloch said.

SUPERVISORS MICK STATON (R-Sugarland Run), Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) continued their opposition to HHMRI’s exemption, citing the increasing tax burden on residents and the process the previous board used to grant the exemption.
"What you are asking me to do by the reaffirmation is put my stamp of approval on how this was handled previously," Staton said. "And I can’t do that."
Snow said he could not support giving a tax exemption to a campus where people made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, when most people in the county were earning much less. He suggested using the money to help the people of HHMRI put it toward workforce housing or other tangible solutions.
"I think we need to make sure we take this money and at least fence it in a way that would benefit that organization and others," he said.
Those supervisors who supported the Howard Hughes institute said they believed in the work researchers were doing and said the organization had been a great benefit to the county.
"They are a community partner with us," Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said. "Picking on this one organization because we may or may not like them is not right."

CURRENTLY THERE IS approximately $4.725 billion worth of property given tax exemptions in the county, both by classification and designation.
County Assessor Todd Kaufman and his staff have been reviewing all of the 4,400 parcels coded as exempt by the county to see if they still meet the requirements. Now only approximately 1,100 parcels remain exempt. Kaufman said, however, that the number of parcels does not necessarily equal the number of exempt sites in the county.
"You could have a 250-acre site that is divided into 250 parcels," he said.
Properties exempt by classification include churches, government property, public schools, state-owned property, public libraries, YMCA properties, missions, hospitals, parks, playgrounds and property used by a nonprofit organization.
Those properties make up a majority of the county’s tax exemptions, including approximately $3.4 billion property value for 635 government parcels and local schools.

HOWARD HUGHES Medical Research Institute’s $3.6 million exemption falls under the designation category, which makes up more than $486 million of the total property receiving exemptions.
Prior to 2003, the Virginia General Assembly had to approve all designation exemptions, but the code changed Jan. 1, 2003, granting authority to the local governments to give designation exemptions.
Kaufman said there are eight questions a government can look at to decide on a property’s eligibility for exemption, including whether it is a nonprofit organization, the revenue impact for the county and whether the services provided are for the common good of the public.
"The answers are not reasons not to make [a property] exempt, it is just something to consider," Kaufman said.
Also given a designation tax exemption in the county are the VFW, the Waterford Foundation and Patrick Henry College in Purcellville.

KAUFMAN SAID he is reviewing each parcel independently in his office’s review of tax exemption, but is not singling out any particular property.
"I just want to make sure that what is in the system is correct," he said.
The portion of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute that is tax exempt is also under review, as the exemption was given to the overall value of the property based on construction costs before the campus was finished.

"We’re reviewing that value to make sure it’s still correct," he said.

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