The Benton County Daily Record - NW Arkansas
Masons to keep tax-exempt status
Friday, October 5, 2007
By Tracy M. Neal Staff Writer // [email protected]
BENTONVILLE - The Bentonville Masonic Temple Association will keep its taxexempt status, according to Thursday's ruling by Special Judge Wes Doss.
The Masonic association, along with the trustees of Pea Ridge Masonic Lodge No. 119, filed a complaint May 26, 2006, seeking an injunction to prohibit the Benton County tax assessor and collector from assessing or collecting property taxes on the Masonic organizations' property.
The issue began in April 2005 when the Benton County Tax Assessor's Office sent out approximately 2, 640 questionnaires to evaluate how each organization uses its property. Twenty-three nonprofit organizations then lost their property-tax-exemption status.
Valerie Brewer, office manager in the Tax Assessor's Office, oversaw the project. She also determined that, in 20 cases, particular parcels of land were not being used for a charitable purpose. So, even though the organization might be exempt from property taxes, some of its properties - depending on the use of the property - are not.
According to Article 16, Section 5 B of the Arkansas Constitution, only the following types of property are exempt from taxation • Churches • Cemeteries • School buildings • Libraries and trustees; and • Buildings, grounds and materials used exclusively for public charity.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee appointed Doss to hear the Masonic associations' case after Benton County Judge Gary Black recused himself from presiding over the case.
The issue confronting Doss was whether the Masonic associations' property is used exclusively for public charity because the buildings are used for fellowship dinners that are fundraising activities for the Masons.
Doss decided that the Masons are entitled to the tax exemption. He found that the dinners were respectively for recruitment and fundraising and that the Masonic organizations cannot survive without the recruitment of new members. Doss ruled that the dinners cannot be distinguished from those of parent-teacher organizations, church fellowships and school foundations, as well as teacher-appreciation dinners, that are held in tax-exempt facilities and are attended by members, employees and nonemployees without destroying the facility's tax exemption.
The Rogers Elks Lodge also filed suit, along with the Masons, in an attempt to get its taxes exempt.
The Elks Lodge settled its portion of the suit and agreed to pay taxes, while the county agreed to waive any delinquent taxes.
Benton County Attorney Robin Green said she had spoken with Benton County Tax Assessor Bill Moutray, and the decision was made not to appeal Doss' decision.
Last month, several veterans organizations protested the loss of their tax-exempt status.
Doss' decision does not affect the tax-exempt status of those organizations, Green said.