Tax exemption tabled

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2007

JACKSON – A decision on the appeal for a tax exemption of the Hertford-Northampton Farmers’ Market will have to wait until the next meeting of the Northampton County Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners decided on Monday to hold off the decision after a lengthy discussion. Meanwhile, new information surfaced, provided by Lynn Johnson, who is president of the farmers’ market and filed the appeal.

Commissioner Chairwoman Virginia Spruill (D-2nd) removed herself from the vote, saying that she serves on the board of directors for the farmers’ market. She asked Commissioner Vice Chairman Robert Carter (D-4th) to lead the discussion.

At Monday’s meeting, Northampton Tax Administrator Cathy Allen recommended that the appeal be denied because the property is not wholly and exclusively for educational and/or charitable use, as the general stature states.

She said the property was used for the exchange of goods for monetary value.

Commissioner James Hester (D-1st) asked for Johnson to come forward and offer her side of the issue.

Johnson first passed out several pieces of paperwork including proof that the market has been sanctioned as 501 (C) (3), or a non profit organization, by IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and is exempt from income tax.

Also included was a copy of the market’s articles of corporation, letters of support and a calendar of events listing when education events would be held at the market.

Johnson said not all of the 2.29 acres of the market’s property would be up for exemption.

“We only own 1.4 acres,” she said to the board. “The other part we are leasing.”

“How many tax dollars are we talking about?” asked Commissioner Chester Deloatch (D-3rd).

Allen said she did not have the figures at the time.

“This market will become a very vital part of the county,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the property does provide an educational purpose by teaching visitors how to eat right while fighting health problems like obesity and providing training for future farmers.

She added the farmers’ market website was built by students from Chowan College and Roanoke Community College and the fact that the building is made out of recycled wood.

Johnson stated the farmers’ market does not receive money from the profits that the farmers make and is having trouble trying to pay its utility bills.

“I would urge you to consider your decision very carefully as it may effect other non-profits,” said Johnson.

She went on to list other non profits the Meherrin Tribe, North Carolina Partnership for Children and Nebo Church, which have received tax exemption status and Johnson says are not used “wholly” for educational purpose.

County Manager Wayne Jenkins said even though he supported the farmers’ market he disagreed with Johnson’s claims.

“There are discrepancies between the Meherrin Tribe and the market,” said Jenkins at the meeting. “(Non profits) are exempt from income tax not, ad valorem tax.”

Jenkins told the board that he agreed with the recommendation from Allen.

Sallie Surface, director of CADA (Choanoke Area Development Association), came forward in defense of the market.

“These are things that concern me as a director of a non-profit,” said Surface. “(The market is) educating them (farmers) on how to sell their products.”

Carter called a recess and asked Allen and Jenkins to come forward to talk with the commissioners.

The commissioners, along with Allen and Jenkins, engaged in a three to four minute discussion.

When Carter called the meeting back to order, a comment from the audience prompted the board to divulge what was discussed.

“We just reviewed the gobbles of paper that we did not have time to decipher,” said Carter. “This board will delay its decision.”

Johnson said in a later interview that the county made her remove a sign for the farmers’ market that was on her husband’s property.

“It’s a personal vendetta,” said Johnson. “I guess it’s because of my gender. …These people think we have a wad of cash. They’re doing everything they can to shut us down.”

This is the second time the commissioners have address the topic.

In their Feb. 5 meeting, the commissioners voted 4-1 to deny tax exemption of the farmers’ market.

They cited that they had to obey G.S. 105-278.7, which states the property would have to be used wholly and exclusively for educational and/or charitable purposes in order to be tax exempt from ad valorem.

Commissioner Fannie Greene (D-5th) disagreed with her colleagues, saying she would have liked to have more research done into the matter.