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Cole responds to former-school assessment

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The following facts may bring clarity to the recent newspaper article and the response of the Perry County assessor: the newspaper stated that the former Tell City Junior High School building was assessed at $10,000, when the correct term should have been appraised at a value of $10,000.

When excess real estate is sold by a public authority, state law requires an appraisal to determine the value of the property. The Tell City Junior High School building’s value, which was determined by two Indiana-certified appraisers, is $10,000. Reasons to support this value were stated as follows:

“There is no apparent demand for similar space in Tell City, including areas along the Ohio River in the Cannelton corridor, and this is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. There are older properties in the area that have been renovated but there appears to be little or no demand for this type of space.

“The current improvement is not economically feasible due to the utility and maintenance costs on a monthly basis and the capital repairs that will be required in the near future. Therefore, with a marginal value very near the site value, selling the property or donating it and allowing the buyer to raze the improvements or find a not-for-profit use may be the highest net return.”

The Perry County Assessor also made the statement concerning the former Tell City Junior High School, “As with many properties owned by the school corporation there was never an assessed value.” Within the appraisal documents provided to the school corporation by the two Indiana certified appraisers this statement appears: “According to the Perry County assessor’s office, the subject’s current assessment is $33,400.”

The former Tell City Junior High School is owned by Mozart Inc. It is recognized by both the United States federal government and the state of Indiana as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In order to gain recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, an extensive application process, including clearly defined uses and mission documentation, is required to fully describe and support the granting of tax exempt status by the United States government. This complete documentation, including approvals, has been provided with each application for property-tax exemption, to the Perry County assessor’s office. 

The Perry County assessor asked the question: “As for “letting” the girls softball team, cross country families and Little League draft “use” the building, maybe we should ask was a fee incurred to them for this?” Great question and as a nonprofit organization whose records are available to the public and were included in the request for tax exemption provided to the Perry County assessor, let me elaborate. 

Cross Country Event:  “No charge.” The event used minimal electricity and restroom water, and sewer consumption doesn’t exceed minimum charges. Parking is readily available. 

William Tell Elementary Storage of Playground Equipment: “No charge.” The school was offered an opportunity to purchase playground equipment at a substantial discount, saving the school corporation thousands of dollars if purchase and delivery could be made during the slow winter season. The school corporation lacked available storage space but could be accommodated at the former junior high.

Tell City Junior High Softball Team batting practice:  The softball team uses the upper area gym. This area contains fluorescent lighting of which the electricity has been estimated to cost $5 per hour to operate. Fee is $5 per use.  On a side note, the team has a win-loss record of 25-0. Tell City Cal Ripken League:  The league used the facility for drafts and tryouts for five different age groups beginning at 8:30 a.m. and finishing at 4:30 p.m. The league used the main gym for approximately eight hours. During this time, the estimated electricity cost for the lighting was $100. The fee charged to the organization was $100.

I can continue, but you get the point. It is common practice for nonprofit organizations to charge for usage of their facilities or a membership fee. 

While they are exempt from property tax, all must pay for electricity, gas, water, sewage, insurance, maintenance and other costs associated with the operations of their facility.

So far this year (2014) Mozart Inc. has spent $2,519.02 for electricity, $4,146.06 for natural gas and $3682.75 for property taxes.  Our fee-based revenue during this time period was $510.

The Perry County assessor also made mention of the value of the property and referred to her assessment of the building at $3.68 per square foot for a total of $223,400.  She fails to include all of the property with this statement.

I will clarify the facts: The entire property sold at auction for $85,500 in September of 2012. The title to the property was recorded  Oct. 8, 2012, and a property-tax bill was issued by her office for the 84 days of ownership in 2012 to Mozart Inc. for a total property value of $134,500. This is an increase from the auction amount of 157 percent.

No improvement was made to the structure during this time period. Subsequently, the tax bill issued for 2013 again increased the property value. This time the value increased to $246,400, which is a 288-percent increase from the auction amount. Please remember the statement made from the two certified Indiana appraisers, “The current improvement is not economically feasible due to the utility and maintenance costs on a monthly basis and the capital repairs that will be required in the near future.” I will clarify: “in its current state it is a white elephant.”

The list of the organizations, lodges and churches that operate as charitable community groups is quite extensive, but it appears Mozart Inc. is being held to a substantially higher level than other similar organizations. It is unfortunate the former Tell City Junior High School cannot be allowed to grow into a prized asset for our community’s use.

Without the support of our elected officials and the public, the facility is doomed to become a public eyesore.

RANDY COLE
Tell City