N.H. Nonprofit Ends Up in Court Over Tax Bill

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January 14, 2011; Source: Concord Monitor | The Home Care Association of New Hampshire in Concord is fighting a property tax bill it received on its two-story office building from the city. It had paid a previous bill issued in 2006. NCANH is a 501(c)3 organization but that is not good enough for city manager, Tom Aspell who says that the city looks at all nonprofits closely to determine whether they are due a local tax break.

The group, which describes itself as "a membership organization which enhances the ability of agencies providing home health care to deliver quality services to New Hampshire residents," has existed since 1974 and has a membership of visiting nurse associations and hospital-affiliated home-care groups.

The organization appealed the ruling to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals which ruled that it should be exempt but the city of Concord appealed to the State Supreme Court on grounds that the HCANH did not serve the public directly, but rather served its members. Now the New Hampshire State Supreme Court has made a unanimous ruling that vacated the tax board’s decision and remanded the case for a rehearing. Its decision?

For a group to be eligible for an exemption, wrote Associate Justice Gary Hicks, the "charitable mission must be its dominant or primary purpose. "But if any public benefit is incidental and a group's main purpose is to benefit its members, "the organization will not meet this requirement."

The decision found that the tax board did not make its decision based on whether the public benefits of the association's work "are merely incidental to a dominant or primary purpose . . . of benefiting HCA's members, or whether these benefits to the public are slight, negligible or insignificant when compared to the benefit derived by HCA's members."

The group plans to take the case back to the Tax Appeals board, but apparently would be happy enough to settle the case. Any comments? – Ruth McCambridge