Horses vie for titles during the American Miniature Horse Association’s Eastern Regional Championship at the Champions Center Expo in Springfield on Saturday, Aug. 11. Contributed photo by Randy Hilt
By Everdeen Mason
The equine center has worked out a deal with the local port authority to repay $70,000 in taxpayer money given to it help pay back real estate taxes.
The operating agency of the Champions Center at the Clark County Fairgrounds — the Ohio Equine Agricultural Association — borrowed the money from the Port Authority of Springfield in December 2010 after discovering that despite its believed 501(c)3 status, its request for tax exemption had been declined due to a paperwork error and the taxes owed totaled more than $789,000.
The money borrowed from the port authority was supposed to be payed back in December 2011 but it never was. At a port authority meeting last week, the two groups worked out an arrangement.
“We’ve given them until April to send us partial payments and give us a plan about how they’re operating,” said Jim Foreman, port authority chairman and owner of Foreman-Blair Buick GMC Cadillac.
The amount of the monthly payments wasn’t disclosed.
A new executive director, David Halverson, was hired last September to revitalize the equine center.
“This has everything here it needs to be one of the best facilities in the country,” Halverson said.
The key is to attract more traveling groups, he said, and raise money for advertising.
“We’re working to get current on the settlement of taxes and trying to get rid of our tax liability,” he said.
The OEAA didn’t pay property taxes on the Champions Center after 2004, and amassed more than $680,000 worth of back taxes. After making a contract with the Clark County Auditor’s office, the OEAA was told it owed $375,880 and must make biannual payments of more than $37,500, Clark County Treasurer Stephen Metzger said.
“They still have six payments but they’ve already paid four,” Metzger said. He said the organization still owes about $225,528.
“It will be done over the next three years,” he said. “But they’re in compliance with the contract established in March of 2011.”
The equine center only employs six full-time workers, but brings major tourism dollars to the county.
In August alone, the Champions Center is hosting five events expected to have a total economic impact of $4.6 million, according to a Champions Center report. For all of 2012, it will hold 47 events that are estimated to have an economic impact of about $31.6 million, the report said.
“The (Champions Center) is very good for the community and tourism dollars and we’re very fortunate to have the Springfield Port Authority that’s willing to work with them,” said John Detrick, Clark County commissioner.
The county commission owns the land at the Clark County Fairgrounds that the center is on and they leased it to the OEAA for 99 years.
“If they go under, we would lose everything,” Detrick said. “It’s important that we try to keep them viable.”
May 2005: The Ohio Equine Agriculture Association applies for tax-exempt status from property taxes and is turned down because of a paperwork error, unbeknownst to them.
March 2009: OEAA finally appeals the denial but it is deemed too late. According to the Ohio Department of Taxation, the organization cannot reapply for tax-exempt status until the back taxes through 2005 are paid off.
December 2010: The Port Authority of Springfield issues a check for $70,000 to the Champions Center to help pay off the back taxes.
2011: Property taxes owed rises to $789,000.
July 2011: The department of taxation rules to allow OEAA to only repay the amount of back taxes owed from 2004 to 2006, or $375,880. The total must be paid off in five years in biannual installments of $37,582.02.
December 2011: The $70,000 borrowed from the port authority is due, but not paid.
August 2012: The Champions Center agrees to begin paying undisclosed monthly installments to the port authority, and will meet with the group in April for a check up.
2012: OEAA has paid Clark County four payments and still has six more to make. OEAA currently owes $225,528.08 in back taxes.