The Haines Borough Assembly on Tuesday approved sales tax exemption status for the nonprofit Friends of the NRA. The assembly also heard testimony from Chilkat Valley Preschool supporters. The preschool is asking the assembly for a lease extension and waived rent.
Friends of the NRA is the nonprofit, fundraising arm of the NRA Foundation, which is also a nonprofit. They are both offshoots of the larger, political and often-controversial National Rifle Association. The FNRA applied for sales tax exemption status from the borough last month, but the vote was postponed because the application was from someone near Homer, with no local information on the form.
At Tuesday’s meeting FNRA Haines chapter president Tim Holm explained what the organization does in Haines, and said he was there to clear up misunderstandings about the group.
“The Friends of the NRA is not the NRA,” Holm said. “The NRA is not a nonprofit, it is a political monster. It’s a huge organization. The Friends of the NRA is completely nonprofit. In fact it doesn’t have any paid members.”
Holm said all of the money raised through the FNRA goes into a national pot and is divvied up equally between the chapters. He added that the money goes toward purchasing safety equipment and supporting local groups like the Haines Hot Shots and the Haines Sportsman’s Association.
“We don’t politick, we’re solely based on firearms education, hunting safety and things like that.”
The request came from Homer, because that’s where the state’s representative lives, Holm said.
The assembly passed the motion passed 5-1 with Ron Jackson opposed. Jackson said he’s against it because the Haines Hot Shots are already a nonprofit and don’t pay sales tax.
“And the items that he was talking about that he was going to, like buy materials for the skeet shoot and things like that, are exactly what they said they were going to do,” Jackson said. “It just seemed redundant…Is there a point when we would say no to somebody? I don’t know. We’ve never talked about any criteria about whether we would do that or not.
The assembly also heard comments from supporters of Chilkat Valley Preschool in the first of two public hearings. The preschool has asked the assembly for another extension on its lease in the borough-owned building, and for the borough to waive the $500 monthly rent. In the long-term, the preschool is hoping to combine with the Haines Senior Center. The preschool learned on Tuesday that its back-up plan of setting up shop in the basement of the Presbyterian Church was no longer an option as it didn’t pass a fire inspection.
Sarah Elliott, a graduate of CVP with a daughter enrolled currently, was one of a handful that spoke out. She said not extending the lease and waiving the rent would adversely affect the students.
“We need the rent waived so we don’t have to raise tuition. Raising tuition could deter enrolled families and will draw funds from our tuition scholarship. The children we provide a scholarship for would no longer have that option.”
The assembly will vote on whether to extend the lease at a future meeting, but an amendment was made Tuesday to include legal direction to update the ordinance. When the assembly approved a lease extension last year, it was written in that it could not be prolonged again.
“I feel like it’s déjà vu,” said assembly member George Campbell. “I’m sitting in the very same discussion I was year ago where we’ve got these great plans, with nothing substantial in front of me.”
Assemblyman Mike Case said they should cut the preschool some slack.
“The preschool people relied on a, not a promise, but close to a promise from the school that they could use part of the school for their preschool activities,” he said. “The school for I’m sure a good reason decided that they couldn’t do it. It put the preschool people back in a situation that they had not anticipated.”
The second public hearing and vote are scheduled for the next assembly meeting on Jan. 26.