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Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Supreme court looks at tax-exempt status of firm attached to lease of Horizon Science Academy
The Ohio Supreme Court will decide if a company that owns and leases property to publicly funded charter schools should have to pay taxes.
Ohio Tax Commissioner Joseph Testa and the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals ruled that a company, 250 Shoup Mill LLC, owes local taxes on property it leases to Horizon Science Academy, a public charter school in Dayton.
Before the high court today, an attorney for 250 Shoup Mill countered that it is a nonprofit, tax-exempt entity and should not have to pay taxes. The company is a subsidiary of New Plan Learning, which owns properties it leases to 11 New Horizon schools in Ohio, including two in Columbus.
The Dayton charter school pays 250 Shoup Mill $33,000 a month, or $396,000 a year, to lease its property. The lease money comes from Ohio taxpayers through the Ohio Department of Education, which funds both public and charter schools.
Testa's office concluded that while the charter school was exempt from taxation in 2010, 250 Shoup Mill was not. Testa's office denied the group's application for a tax exemption, a decision affirmed by the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals.
"This has all the hallmarks of a commercial lease, including annual increases in those payments that happen by the virtue of the passage of time and penalties for default," said Melissa Baldwin, an assistant attorney general representing Testa's office.
M. Charles Collins, an attorney representing 250 Shoup Mill, said the company qualifies for the tax exemption as a charitable and educational entity even though it collects rent but does not operate the school and has no "expectation, intent or desire to profit from this."
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor questioned Collins about how it would be appropriate for taxpayers to pay $33,000-a-month lease for a charter school building valued at about $3 million that at the end of the lease would still be owned by a private company.
However the decision goes, it won't matter going forward because in 2011 the General Assembly slipped a provision into the state budget expanding the tax exemption to cover charter school property owners like 250 Shoup Mill, in addition to school operators.