ICE is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization and hence is exempt from taxes. That includes sales tax, income tax, and property taxes. Without that exemption, the cost of operating the facilities would make participation prohibitively expensive, and out of reach for many area residents. Grand Traverse County and East Bay Township have challenged that exemption, and placed ICE on the tax rolls.
Michigan Court cases clearly have identified a four part test that must be met for a property to be exempt. 1) The non-profit must be incorporated in Michigan. 2) The real estate must be owned and occupied by the non-profit. 3) The property must be used by the non-profit for its exempt purpose. 4) The non-profit must be a library, benevolent, charitable, educational or scientific institution.
The first three conditions are undisputable. The fourth also has clear court cases defining a charitable group as one that provides a building for use by the public and lessens the burden of government. The ICE facilities are obviously open to the public. With Wexford, Kalkaska and Otsego counties all operating arenas at a substantial cost to the taxpayers, it is also obvious that ICE is lessening that burden for Grand Traverse County.
When first put on the tax rolls, East Bay Township said they did no research but were ordered by Lori Spencer to place ICE on the tax rolls. Ms. Spencers justification was that she didnt know of any tax exempt arenas in the state. That isnt one of the four test items, and is only a tribute to the fantastic job the community has done to support the unique ICE organization.
Grand Traverse County has officially backed off, and is no longer part of the tax tribunal case. Now, East Bay Township is continuing to seek taxes, asserting that political pressure from the county is their reason for continuing the fight.
Meanwhile, ICE continues to rack up legal bills to fight the community it serves. The issue clearly threatens the survival of the organization since the property taxes assessed ICE would amount to almost $200,000 per year. Without the Red Wings training camp or a junior hockey team, ICE has suffered a drop in revenues. ICE costs would jump from $170/hr. to approximately $220/hr. to cover the taxes.
Hopefully the community will rally and give some support. As taxpayers who elect and hire our government officials, I dont believe the community is behind forcing this issue and trying to win a case which will only hurt us if we do.
Michael Anton is a local CPA and the treasurer of the ICE organization.