The 123-year-old Spokane Gun Club received word Wednesday it would not have to pay $40,000 in back property taxes later this month, an amount that members said would have bankrupted the Spokane Valley shooting range.
The Spokane County Board of Equalization unanimously shot down the club’s removal from a tax relief program by county 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 decades.
The club, represented by board member Dave Baker and private real estate developer and Spokane County Planning Commissioner Pete Rayner, have 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. The club has operated at the same site on East Sprague Avenue in Spokane Valley since the 1940s.
“They made the case for us,” Baker said Wednesday of the Assessor’s Office. “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 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 which have received the tax break for decades, that have been slated for removal in the past two years. The Legislature created the program in 1970 for land used in production of “food, fiber and forest crops” and areas for outdoor recreation, which might otherwise have been taxed out of existence.
The Assessor’s Office has 30 days to appeal. Horton was not available for comment Wednesday.
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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