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Bill unfairly targets Oregon nonprofits

As manager of the Rogue Valley Chorale Association, an Oregon nonprofit organization, I am very concerned about Senate Bill 181, which is currently scheduled for a hearing today in the House Committee on Revenue. SB1 81 proposes to require nonprofit groups seeking a property tax exemption to file an information return that states its basis for claiming exemption in terms derived from Oregon case law with the submission accompanied by Form 990. Exemption is to be denied for noncompliance.

It is not in the best interest of the government or of Oregonians to require nonprofits to provide annual reporting in order to determine property tax exemption status. Charitable nonprofits should only need to file their paperwork with the government at the time they seek charitable property tax exemption status and should not be put in the position of defending their eligibility every year. It is redundant, a waste of time for both the government and the nonprofits, and takes resources away from the important work nonprofits do for the communities they serve.

Nonprofit organizations have been targeted by the Legislative Revenue Office as an easy source with which to fill county and state coffers. In February of 2017 the Legislative Revenue Office described property used for charitable purposes as a loss of revenue to the government. This viewpoint is one-dimensional and does not take into account the value of the work nonprofits contribute to the community by providing services the government will not or cannot undertake. Nonprofits save the government millions of dollars annually by feeding hungry citizens, improving schools, housing the homeless, protecting children from abuse and neglect, protecting the environment, improving our communities by offering a vast menu of arts and culture, and much more.

SB 181 is vague at best, and leaves much of the qualifying up to interpretation. Individual county tax assessors can interpret SB 181 using their own ideas of eligibility. The result will be massive confusion between nonprofits and tax assessors, overwhelming both, and inadvertently causing nonprofits to lose their tax-exempt status based on interpretations that may not be fair, valid or consistent.

Oregon nonprofits exist to serve the communities in the state of Oregon, and not to make money. The nonprofit that employs me, Rogue Valley Chorale Association, exists to provide hundreds of children with music education and opportunities to sing. Our adult chorus enriches the community by providing thousands of Oregonians access to beautiful music. We do not exist to make money. Our service to our communities benefits the state by providing income tax revenues from our staff, attracting tourism, and drawing potential residents to communities made richer by the presence of the art created.

The contributions Oregon nonprofits make to the state are manifold and invaluable. It’s enough.

— Laura Rich is manager of the Rogue Valley Chorale Association.