Ski team fights ruling
November 13, 2009
The United States Ski and Snowboard Association has appealed a ruling from the Summit County Council which denied a property-tax exemption for the group’s new Center of Excellence training facility at Quinn’s Junction.
A hearing could occur soon in the case that was filed with the Utah State Tax Commission.
Without the exempt status for its $22 million facility, USSA will have to pay a hefty tax bill for its new headquarters. The decision in September also required the organization to pay Summit County more than $14,000 in back taxes delinquent since 2008.
Property used by Utah nonprofits for religious, charitable or educational purposes qualifies for tax exemptions under state law. USSA officials claim the Center of Excellence qualifies as an educational and charitable organization because amateur athletes train at the facility at no cost to them.
But a for-profit company called Center of Excellence Properties Fund, LLC, owns the building. USSA leases the property for about $183,000 per month.
The ownership means the training facility does not qualify for a tax exemption under state law, according to Summit County Councilman Chris Robinson.
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Because skiing and snowboarding are dangerous, an attorney for USSA said the group formed the for-profit owner as the titleholder for the building to protect the Center of Excellence from potential lawsuits brought by athletes injured while training.
They said they wanted to make sure they protected the property with a "liability veil."
Along with housing offices for the U.S. Ski Team, the roughly 85,000-square-foot training center features a weight room, gymnasium, sports-recovery area and nutrition center.
David Thomas, a deputy Summit County attorney, said county officials will vigorously defend their decision in court if necessary.
"The County Council feels strongly about it," Thomas said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Meanwhile, in October the Summit County Council also denied a request for a property-tax exemption from the Christian Center of Park City, which intends to move into the building at 1283 Deer Valley Drive.
County officials claimed the for-profit building owner leasing the property to the group did not have the not-for-profit status required for the tax break.
"The owner of the property has to be a nonprofit," Thomas said.
Christian Center officials have asked the Summit County Council to reconsider its decision but have not formally appealed the ruling.
Snyderville Basin resident Tom Wells recently criticized the ruling at a County Council meeting in Coalville.
"On such short notice, how do you reasonably expect unbudgeted property tax funds to be raised by Nov. 30?" Wells said.
Since the request was denied, Wells said donations to the center have dropped.
"Few charities own their own property," Wells said. "They lease."
Special counsel hired by Summit County from the law firm Parsons, Behle and Latimer, determined the groups should not receive tax exemptions.
"I know a fair amount about the good work that the Christian Center does, so it’s unfortunate that the outcome was what it was," Summit County Councilman Chris Robinson said. "There have likely been some irregularities in how these provisions, as we understand them, have been carried out in this county."
The Christian Center currently leases land from a private party on Iron Horse Drive and has received tax exemptions from Summit County for nearly two years, Christian Center Executive Director Tim Dahlin said.
Without the exemption for the roughly $2.8 million building, the Christian Center will have to start paying property taxes pegged at about $21,000 per year.
"This is not something that we chose to do to hurt you," Summit County Councilwoman Sally Elliott told Christian Center officials. "We must follow the law We had to chose to apply the law as we understand it."