Belhaven Chamber seeks tax exempt status for property

Published 12:10 am Monday, November 14, 2016


County commissioners promised Belhaven Chamber of Commerce President Dianne Bowen they would look into tax exempt status for the beleaguered nonprofit.

The Chamber has a looming $4,000 tax bill from the county that Bowen told commissioners will cripple the organization. The bill is attached to a piece of property gifted to the chamber by Marion Keech this year. Keech paid the taxes on the property last year, but according to Bowen, assumed the property would become exempt under the ownership of the nonprofit Chamber.

At the board’s meeting last Monday, Bowen asked commissioners to waive the taxes because as a mostly volunteer organization — there is only one paid part-time employee — cannot afford to pay the tax and continue the promotional work of the Chamber.

“In order to continue the good work of the Chamber of Commerce, we need help,” Bowen said. “If we have to pay this, it will do what the mayor of Belhaven has not been able to do, (which) is to drive us out of business, and that is a fact.”

In April, the Town of Belhaven’s Board of Aldermen voted to evict the Chamber from its previous home on West Main Street in a refurbished Norfolk and Southern Railroad caboose, saying that the Chamber was not acting in the best interest of the town when it declined to hand over the donated Keech property to the town. The land is adjacent the hospital that was closed by Vidant Health two years ago; since, the town has been attempting to find ways to reopen the rural hospital.

“It’s my understanding that the same rules apply to this as they do to churches,” Commissioner Hood Richardson said during the meeting. “If it isn’t being used, it can be taxed.”

Bowen said the modular buildings on the property are not habitable even if staff wanted to move into them.

“There is so much mold and mildew that you’d have to have lungs of steel to work there,” Bowen said.

Currently, the Chamber is located in the form Belhaven Senior Center, which also is not an ideal location, she said.

“We lost our office of 30 years, and we’re now in what was the senior center, and it floods. Since we moved in in the middle of July, we have moved out and up twice. And we are all old, and this is getting old,” Bowen said.

The Chamber’s future plan is to tear down the buildings on the donated property and build a new Chamber of Commerce there with the assistance of grants.

The Board of Commissioners recommended tax assessor Bobby Parker look into whether the property could be considered tax exempt.