State tax officials uphold Ski Team denial
November 30, 2010
Summit County has prevailed in a year-long tax dispute with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.
USSA officials had requested a property tax exemption from the county for the organization’s $22 million Center of Excellence training facility at Quinn’s Junction. The Summit County Board of Equalization denied the request and USSA appealed the decision to the Utah State Tax Commission last summer.
Non-profit organizations that own property used for educational, charitable or religious purposes may qualify for tax exemptions in Utah. The Utah State Tax Commission narrowed down the tax dispute to whether the Center of Excellence qualified as an educational organization.
To qualify for the tax exemption the non-profit USSA needed to show that the headquarters was "used exclusively" for educational purposes, the 14-page decision from the Utah State Tax Commission states.
Ski Team officials "failed to meet this burden," according to the decision from the Tax Commission.
"While education was one of the uses of the property it was not the exclusive use," the Nov. 18 decision states. "The facility was also used by USSA for fostering amateur sports competitions and fielding national teams. Athletes used facilities in the building for physical conditioning. None of these uses are educational in nature."
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But educating amateur athletes is one of the primary missions of the Center of Excellence, USSA officials said.
"In fact, the Center of Excellence was built very much with the intention of using it as essentially a launching pad of educational material and content to our 400 clubs around the country, and it has indeed served a really valuable purpose for that," said Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.
The Tax Commission set a high standard when it required Ski Team officials to use the 85,000-square-foot facility exclusively for educational purposes to receive a tax exemption, Kelly said.
"In what was really a rather interesting ruling they indicated that the usage must be wholly and exclusive," he said. "The standard that was set with this really is that the usage must be completely educational in this case in order to satisfy the law."
USSA officials haven’t decided whether to appeal the decision from the Tax Commission, Kelly said.
"We’re still looking at it and trying to determine what the next steps are," he said. "We’re looking at what options we have."
Summit County Councilwoman Claudia McMullin, chairwoman of the Board of Adjustment, said the case could be headed to district court or the Utah Supreme Court.
The decision from the Tax Commission means the Center of Excellence will not receive a property tax exemption for last year or 2010, McMullin explained.
"The [Tax Commission] upheld our decision because they don’t use the building exclusively for educational purposes," she said.
The tax bill for the Center of Excellence in 2010 is about $142,252, according to the Summit County Treasurer’s Office.
Though she is satisfied with the outcome, McMullin said county officials on Monday filed a request for reconsideration seeking clarification from the Tax Commission.
"We didn’t seek to overturn anything. We just want them to expand on what they meant," McMullin said.
In ruling against the Center of Excellence, state tax officials did not clearly define what types of organizations qualify as educational.
"They did determine that education is broader than a traditional education. But they didn’t tell us what it was," McMullin said. "They also mentioned that some of what the USSA does is educational but they don’t tell us what We want to know what the law is so we can apply it uniformly across applications."
She said other groups that claim to be educational organizations have applied for property tax exemptions from Summit County. The Board of Adjustment waited for the decision from the Tax Commission on the USSA appeal before considering those requests.