Grand County Snow Mountain Ranch property retains tax exempt status
December 13, 2016
The local governments of Grand County derive their funding from multiple different sources from sales taxes to licensing fees to grants from the State and Federal government.
But the single largest share of most of the tax revenue used to operate our governing institutions comes from taxies levied on property. For several years now the tax status of the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch property in Grand County has been in a sort of legal limbo as County officials have filed legal challenges to its tax-exempt status.
All that changed recently when the Colorado Supreme Court decided not to review a Colorado Court of Appeals decision declaring the YMCA properties in both Grand and Larimer Counties as tax-exempt. The decision by the Colorado Supreme Court not to review the Court of Appeals decision means the lower court ruling, which declared the YMCA properties as tax-exempt, stands. That means Grand and Larimer Counties have no further legal recourse to contest the ruling.
The governments of Grand and Larimer Counties will now be required to return previously taxed monies, derived from taxes levied on YMCA properties during 2002, 2003 and half of 2004, to the YMCA. For Grand County alone that figure is roughly $1.3 million. The East Grand School District accounts for the single largest portion of the total repayment figure at around $620,000. According to officials from East Grand a significant portion of the repayment costs are derived from interest accrued on the funds that were taxed in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
While the decision by the Colorado Supreme Court not to review the Court of Appeals ruling ends potential legal challenges to the tax-exemption of the YMCA there has been no formal ruling on how to move forward and officials are still working out the specifics of how repayment will be handled and when.
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Grand County Manager Lee Staab sent an email to the Grand County taxing entities affected by the Colorado Supreme Court decision on Tuesday Dec. 6. The affected entities include: Grand County, the East Grand School District (EGSD), the East Grand Fire Protection District, the Fraser Valley Metro Recreation District, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District, the Grand County Library District and the Colorado River Water Conservancy District.
In the email sent to local taxing entities Staab states, "The affected governments must refund taxes collected in 2002, 2003, and the first half of 2004, plus interest." Staab goes on to state, "The next step for the Board (of County Commissioners) is to arrange a meeting with you, the affected taxing districts, to discuss scheduling of repayment to the YMCA the taxes received in prior years and the accrued interest."
Officials from the EGSD are not quite sure how all this will shake out. "We have a lot of options we still need to look at," said EGSD Superintendent Frank Reeves. "At worst it will get paid next year by the County withholding tax money they would have sent to us."
Reeves went on to explain the EGSD could potentially have their share of the repayment covered by funds from the Colorado State Department of Education. "We are really no fault in this at all," Reeves said. "We don't decide who is taxed, we just collect the money that is taxed." But Reeves added, "We met with our attorney's last week to find out what options we have to repay this and quite honestly to see how we can prevent it from being a burden on the taxpayers."
The current iteration of the YMCA tax-exemption legal battle was initiated in the spring of this year when Grand and Larimer Counties filed briefs with the Colorado Supreme Court requesting a review of the Court of Appeals decision. The legal proceedings surrounding the tax-exempt status of the YMCA properties have been ongoing for over a decade now though.
The initial proceedings resulted from a unique set of circumstances occurring in the early aughts. Throughout 2002, 2003 and for half of 2004 Grand and Larimer Counties assessed taxes on property owned by the YMCA organization. In Dec. 2003 YMCA of the Rockies applied for tax exempt status for its two regional properties, Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County and the Estes Park Center in Larimer County. The 2003 application for tax-exempt status was for religious purposes and charitable use property tax exemptions.
The YMCA properties were initially granted tax-exempt status but the Colorado Board of Assessment Appeals reversed the decision, effectively declaring the properties not tax-exempt. That decision was brought before the Colorado Court of Appeals that issued a ruling in April 2013 vacating the Board of Assessment Appeals' decision.
After the appellate court ruling in 2013 the Board of Assessment Appeals reversed their previous decision and granted YMCA of the Rockies religious use exemptions but did not issue a ruling on the charitable exemptions requested by the YMCA. On Jan. 22, 2015 the Colorado Court of Appeals reaffirmed the tax-exempt status of the properties.