HBAThe Haines Borough Assembly this week approved property tax exemptions for several nonprofits. But not without a little debate.

Last year, the assembly tightened up its rules on how nonprofits qualify for Community Purpose Exemptions. The code change is more in line with state rules. So, when organizations started handing in applications looking to avoid paying property taxes this year, they were to be scrutinized a little more carefully. That happened, somewhat, at the meeting, though all the requests that came before the assembly were approved.

An application from the Senior Village brought up questions about age restrictions. One of the criteria to qualify for the tax break is that the organization be available for public use. But the Senior Village residents must be 55 or older.

Here’s Assemblywoman Margaret Friedenauer.

“This came up with the Veteran’s Village, too. If there’s an age limit on who can reside there, does it qualify? Because you’re effectively only allowing a portion of the population to reside and so technically, it limits the community use.”

Upon further examination of the borough code, it was found that in order for a property to qualify, it has to be available for public use regardless of sex, race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or national origin. Age is not included in that list. There are 11 factors involved for a nonprofit to qualify and code states: “In order to determine that a property qualifies for this exemption, the borough may consider various factors including (those listed), but not limited to.

Borough assessor Dean Olsen is responsible for recommending approval of the applications to the assembly. He says from his perspective, applicants have to meet some, but not all, of the criteria.

“When we discussed this, on this list, they don’t have to qualify for all of them on there,” he says. “So, it may exclude a certain portion of it, but there are other elements on there that they qualify for. It doesn’t say that they have to meet every one, exactly to the letter.”

Friedenauer responded, asking why specifically he approved an exemption for the Senior Village

“Can you specify the reasons?”

“Because I think it is an exemption that follows the spirit of Community Purpose Exemption.”

The assembly also discussed an application from the American Bald Eagle Foundation for a parcel of land on Allen Road. They were told that 10 acres of the 14-acre plot is being used for a community garden, with plans to utilize the entire space for public access. That one was approved unanimously, also.

Interim manager Brad Ryan says many more applications are coming in to meet the looming deadline.

During the meeting, a couple of residents spoke about concerns of imminent belt-tightening due to state funding shortfalls, and how borough taxes – property or otherwise – are a source of income. Here’s Debra Schnabel.

“The exemptions that are offered to property owners in the community, as that increases the burden of paying for our roads and our services are going to be borne by the businesses of this community and by homeowners of this community. And, especially I might point out, the younger homeowners in the community, not the older homeowners in the community.”

Also at the meeting, a liquor license was approved unanimously for the Pilotlight Restaurant. After that, interim manager Ryan received generous praise for his efforts in the position thus far during a somewhat informal performance evaluation.

Ryan says he has not yet submitted his name for the permanent manager position.

The next regular assembly meeting is April 12, with several committee of the whole meetings slated for April and May to talk about the borough budget. The manager’s budget is scheduled to come out on April 1.