The Spokane Gun Club will not have to pay more than $40,000 in back taxes at the end of the month on property it’s owned in Spokane Valley since the 1940s, according to a ruling issued this week.
The Spokane County Board of Equalization unanimously shot down the club’s removal from a tax relief program by real estate assessors earlier this year. Those assessors said roughly 37 acres of the club’s property were not being used to produce an agricultural product, which has qualified the nonprofit organization for a tax deferral program for several decades.
The club, represented by board member Dave Baker and private real estate developer and Spokane County Planning Commissioner Pete Rayner at a hearing before the Board of Equalization on March 30, argued the use of the land has not changed since they and the assessor made a tacit agreement in the 1990s to allow the club to continue qualifying for the tax break.
“They made the case for us,” Baker said Wednesday. “They said the only way it can be changed, once it’s in, is to have a change of use. We’ve never had a change of use.”
A private farmer pays the club rent to grow hay on some of the ground, and sprays the rest for weeds, Baker said. The land challenged by the assessor is used as fallout ground for lead shot at the club, which holds trap shooting competitions periodically sponsored by The Spokesman-Review.
At the March hearing, Toni Babler of the Spokane County Assessor’s Office said they’d received direction from the county to “clean up” the program that allows for tax breaks by using new technological tools to remove non-compliant parcels.
“In 2008, the (Department of Revenue) came forward and mandated that all of the counties in the state of Washington bring these programs to compliance, because they weren’t being properly monitored and all the rules weren’t being followed,” Babler said.
Spokane County Assessor Vicki Horton provided a list in January of 118 parcels in the county, some of them that have applied for the tax break since 1950, that have been slated for removal in the past two years.
The Assessor’s Office has 30 days to appeal the Board of Equalization’s decision to the State Board of Tax Appeals. Baker said Wednesday that the decision comes just in time for the club to remain operational, as the first half of property tax bills are due to the county by April 30.
“We would either have had to sell ground, borrow money, or work out a payment plan with the assessor,” Baker said.
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