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The Morning News - Bentonville, Arkansas
Masonic Temple, Lodge Object To Property Taxation
May 27, 2006
By Robin Mero
BENTONVILLE -- The Bentonville Masonic Temple Association and Trustees of Pea Ridge Masonic Lodge filed a lawsuit Friday claiming they're being improperly and inconsistently assessed property taxes in Benton County.
The suit, filed by attorneys Charles Davis and Gerald Jenkins, asks the Benton County Circuit Court to declare the properties exempt from taxation, to annul assessments for several years -- including 2003-05 -- and to stop the county collector from trying to collect thousands of dollars in property taxes.
Defendants are Assessor Shirley Sandlin and Tax Collector Greg Hoggatt.
According to the suit, both organizations are nonprofit, charitable groups and therefore exempt by state law from property taxation.
The Benton County assessor considers several similar organizations exempt, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Bella Vista and American Legion Posts in Rogers, Cave Springs and Sulphur Springs, the suit states.
In January, the assessor's office notified the Masonic Temple delinquent property taxes were owed for 2002 and 2003, the suit states, although the property had been deemed tax-exempt since at least 1992. No notice of change had been provided, but the temple did remit $8,075 under protest.
Theodore Solarz, secretary for the temple, wrote the assessor the lodge "has enjoyed tax-free status since its chartering 152 years ago," according to a letter included in the lawsuit.
The trustees of Pea Ridge Lodge have owned the land since 1947 and were considered exempt from ad valorem taxation until 2005, when the assessor's office sent a letter saying the property "does not meet guidelines for exempt status." The letter didn't say why the status changed, the suit states.
The suit was assigned to Benton County Circuit Judge Jay Finch. It was filed Friday afternoon, and the assessor and tax collector could not immediately be reached for comment.