Town’s Chamber property not exempt from taxes

Published 6:44 pm Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Belhaven Community Chamber of Commerce will have to pay taxes on a parcel of land donated to the organization this year.

At Monday night’s meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, Beaufort County Tax Assessor Bobby Parker told commissioners that Chamber President Dianne Bowen’s request to have $4,000 worth of property taxes on the land waived was not allowable under state law. Bowen requested the county waive the fees during the November board meeting, saying the Chamber is already struggling with limited funding, and commissioners assigned Parker the task of researching whether the fees could legally be waived.

“There’s nowhere in the statutes that I see that (says) it is exempt,” Parker said.

Parker cited a letter from the Attorney General of North Carolina, dated 1966, stating that chambers of commerce should not be exempt. Commissioner Ron Buzzeo questioned whether the 1966 letter was the final say on the matter, to which county attorney David Francisco told commissioners the statement still stood.

According to county Manager Brian Alligood, the statutory requirements define a nonprofit’s tax-exempt status based on whether its work is educational, research or religious.

The property donated to the chamber by Marian Keech was the crux of some of the Belhaven Chamber’s problems this year. The land abuts the former Vidant Pungo Hospital, which was closed by Vidant Health more than two years ago and has since been a battleground between the Town of Belhaven and supporters in favor of reopening the hospital and the majority of members of Pantego Creek LLC, the entity that owns the property. Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal told Chamber officials that the property should be donated to the town to help with the mission to reopen the hospital, but when the chamber refused to hand over the property, Belhaven’s Board of Aldermen voted not to renew the Chamber’s lease on the Southern Railways caboose on Main Street, a town-owned property the Chamber had occupied for 30 years. The Board of Aldermen also defunded the Chamber in the 2016-2017 town budget.

The chamber is currently working out of the former senior center on East Main Street.