Lancaster Supervisors chose to not move forward on a request for personal property tax from non-profit organization Seaway Inc. during the board’s regular meeting last Thursday.
In a letter addressed to County Administrator Frank Pleva, Thomas Dade, president of Seaway, asked that his boats, which are used by the Sea Scouts program of the Boy Scouts of America, be exempt from personal property taxes. Supervisors decided against the request because of the potential increase in tax exemption requests that they anticipated from property owners.
The requested exemptions would have amounted to $425.60 per year. Dade claimed the exemptions because he used his personal property to train Sea Scouts in boating safety, sailing, and leadership. He also cited upkeep as a reason for using the potential exemption to help his program.
In reference to his 1979 Irwin, Dade said: “The boat needed an extensive overhaul to get it ready to restart the Sea Scout program in 2012.”
Dade originally established the Sea Scouts program in 1984 at his home in Poquoson and had used his boats in various training exercises with tax-exempt status. “From 1986 to 2009 Poquoson exempted SEAWAY from personal property taxes on the boats,” Dade claimed.
Pleva expressed concern over the request because it did not fall within a classification that Commissioner of Revenue George “Sonny” Thomas could attend.
“One of the issues is that the state statute provides eight classifications of property that the commissioner by himself can grant tax-exempt status,” Pleva said. “This [request] does not fall within that classification. Therefore, the governing body would have to approve it.”
Pleva also noted Hanover County’s approach to similar requests.
“The governing body decided because of the potential number of requests that if it didn’t fall within one of those eight classifications that the commissioner could automatically deal with, they weren’t going to consider it or any further requests,” Pleva said of Hanover.
Pleva added: “That doesn’t mean people won’t petition board. That was just going to be the board’s policy.”
Board Chairman Wally Beauchamp could not support the request because he feared that if the board granted the exemption to Dade, then the county would “potentially be opening a can of worms” in regards to future requests.
“These are excellent organizations that are providing a great service to the county,” Beauchamp stated. “But I would venture to say that any number of groups could put forth a sound argument that ‘I’m using my home to train youngsters in such-and-such area. Therefore my home or furniture should be tax-exempt.’”
District 3 Supervisor Jason Bellows agreed with Beuchamp.
“I would stick to the eight possible things that you can exempt yourself from,” Bellows stated, with District 4 Supervisor Bill Lee concurring.
Thomas observed that, within the state code certain individual organizations had been granted exempt status by the legislature.
“Boy scouts and girl scouts are among them,” Thomas noted.
In Dade’s case, the title to the personal property under question was in the name of Seaway Inc. and not the Sea Scouts or the Boy Scouts.
District 1 Supervisor F.W. “Butch” Jenkins asserted that Dade’s program and similar organizations should not be without cost, despite Jenkins’ admiration for the services provided by such organizations.
“Over the years we’ve had quite a number of requests, even though we’ve consistently turned them down,” Jenkins explained. “We applaud what these organizations do for the community, but these places still require police protection, fire protection, all the services. That’s just the cost of their doing business.”