News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

January 27, 2012

Senate bill to help Vigo agency

Would return tax-exempt status to Family by Choice

TERRE HAUTE — Legislation drafted to help a local nonprofit passed out of the Indiana State Senate with unanimous support Monday, and is now bound for the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 215, authored by Sen. Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) and Sen. John Waterman (R-Shelburn), returned the tax-exempt status of Families by Choice, a Vigo County organization which provides shelter to individuals with a variety of housing needs.

Founded in 2007, the organization lost its property tax exemption status for the years 2008 and 2009 due to what those involved described as a confusing series of paperwork issues. SB 215 will allow the organization to retroactively claim its property tax exemption, thus negating more than $3,700 in past taxes, fees and penalties.

Families by Choice director and co-founder Muriel Ryan said that money represents taxes from the years in question on two properties, Deborah’s House and Timothy’s House. Penalties and late fees were still accumulating Thursday, she said, noting the combined bill was approximately $3,700 that day.

“At that figure, it is now at the size of what would be our heating bill, fall into spring, for both houses for the heating season,” she remarked in an e-mail.

Among its programs designed to reduce homelessness, the organization operates Deborah’s House, a home for women living alone with one or more children. That particular property is designed to help those mothers develop parenting, vocational, and financial skills. Timothy’s House is a property for men ages 18 to 22 who have just left foster care programs.

Ryan said she first approached Waterman and Skinner after wrangling with the issue more than two years.

“I’ve seen stone walls before, but this is the largest I’ve ever seen,” she said, openly acknowledging that she made a mistake in filing the necessary paperwork to retain the exemptions first obtained in 2008. But admitting her mistake didn’t seem to be enough, she said, explaining a series of bureaucratic roadblocks found from one county office to the other.

Muriel contacted both senators, whom she credited with tremendous support, because her own property and those in the organization fall under both men’s districts.

Vigo County Treasurer Dave Crockett said Thursday afternoon he had not been made aware of the legislation and had no comment. Vigo County Assessor Debbie Lewis was reportedly in meetings that afternoon and could not be reached by telephone.

Skinner said the bill received unanimous support both in committee and the senate, receiving 50 affirmative votes Monday. The legislation will pass to the House of Representatives next, where Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute) is planned to be among the sponsors, he said.

“She’s a tireless crusader for those things that she believes in,” Skinner said of Ryan. “And she’s very persistent.”

The fact that Families by Choice had been granted the exempt status before was significant, he said, adding the organization does important work in helping the needy.

“And there was evidence they’d worked to resolve it in previous years,” he said of the filing mistakes. “So it’s a great thing and they do really good work.”

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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