To the Editor:
The Emmet County Assessor's Office would like to thank all the veterans for their service to this country. I would like to make the public aware of the reason why the Estherville and Armstrong VFWs are partially taxable. This situation is in no way about dishonoring our veterans.
The exemption for the Estherville VFW was applied for in 1983. Wayne Lynch, assessor at that time, and the Board of Review set the exemption to 50% exempt, 50% taxable based on the fact that they opened the doors to the public to serve meals, drinks and rent out the hall.
The Estherville VFW is running a commercial business, which consists of a bar and restaurant, that is open to the public all the time. This portion of the VFW, according to Iowa Code 427.1(5) and (14), is to be taxed. To be totally exempt, the code says the facility is to be "entirely devoted to its own use". There has been NO error, the assessor's office is following the law as written. The Armstrong VFW has a bar that is open to the public, this is the portion that is taxable.
In response to Mr. Woodley's inquiry, I did a survey and found that there are many veteran's associations in the state that are taxable, some at 100%. To name a couple in our area: the VFW in Spirit Lake is 70% taxable and Sibley's facility is 100% taxable. If you would like to view the full list, then please contact my office. The majority of veteran's association in the state are exempt. The reason for this is that they are small facilities and are only used for veteran's meetings, or occasionally rented out for other affairs. The law specifically says, "the occasional or irregular lease or rental of all or a portion of the property of such organization shall not adversely affect the exemption of the property under this subsection if the proceeds from the lease or rental do not exceed $250 per lease or rental". Also, Bingo games and events that the veterans sponsor do not affect the exemption. Estherville VFW rents the hall for events, other than veteran's affairs, and charge $350 per lease or rental. This exceeds what the code allows.
There are some counties that have veteran's associations which are similar to the Estherville facility, and they are 100% exempt, but they are not following the code as written. I cannot speak for them. I would be more than willing to make it 100% exempt, if the law were to say so. To get that changed, the public must speak with our state legislators and urge them to change this law.
The assessor's office conducted a reappraisal project on Commercial, Industrial and Multi-Residential property in Emmet County for the 2018 values. The Estherville VFW, like all commercial property owners, received an assessment notice in February 2018. When assessment notices are sent out everyone has the right to protest the value by either doing an informal review with me or protesting directly to the Board of Review. If you don't protest, the values are set and will be certified for taxation for that year. I am always willing to review the assessment at any time. I have since viewed the Estherville VFW property myself and have made changes to the 2020 assessment.
Please feel free to contact my office if you want more information.
Barbara A. Bohm
Emmet County Assessor