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School district, Menno Haven present sides to judge, tax board

October 20, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The dispute between the Chambersburg Area School District and Menno Haven Inc. over the taxable status of two nursing homes moved forward this week before a judge and the Franklin County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes.

On Tuesday, Judge John R. Walker heard testimony in a hearing on a Sunshine Act violation lawsuit filed last month against the district by Menno Haven, which operates the Menno Village and Penn Hall continuing-care facilities in Chambersburg.

On Monday, the board of assessment heard the school district's appeal asking that the tax-exempt status of the nursing homes at Menno Village and Penn Hall be revoked.

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In court, Menno Haven alleged that the school district violated the Sunshine Act by not properly advertising an Aug. 18 special meeting in which the board voted to authorize Business Manager Rick Vensel to file the appeals. Menno Haven attorney Donald Reavey said the legal notice stated the meeting was to discuss the district's building plans.

Last week, the school board reaffirmed the vote to pursue the tax appeals.

If the court rules the district violated the Sunshine Act and declares the Aug. 18 vote null and void, Menno Haven Chief Financial Officer David R. Bishop testified the district could not appeal the tax-exempt status of the nursing homes for 2005 because the Sept. 1 filing deadline has passed.

Bishop testified the nursing homes have been exempt from property taxes since they were built and said on the stand he believed the district took the action to "retaliate" for Menno Haven's own appeals to have the independent living units at Menno Village and Penn Hall declared tax-exempt.

If the nursing homes are declared taxable property, Bishop testified it would cost Menno Haven about $170,000 in real estate taxes.

Representing the district, attorney Elliott Sulcove said the published legal notice stated the date, time and place of the special meeting and that there is no requirement under the law to specify every item to be discussed. Bishop was at the Aug. 11 board meeting when it was announced that action on the nursing homes would be deferred until Aug. 18, Sulcove told the court.

"I haven't read the Sunshine Act and I'm not going to make a ruling in the dark," Walker said. He told the attorneys to submit further written arguments and said he would issue a decision later this year.

Many of the same people were present at Monday's board of assessment hearing on the reassessment appeals on the nursing homes filed by the school district and the borough of Chambersburg.

Jan Sulcove, the attorney representing the district at the hearing, said the nursing homes do not qualify for a tax exemption because Menno Haven does not donate a substantial portion of its services for charitable care. He said Menno Haven made no expenditures from its benevolence fund in 2002 or 2003.

Reavey said a substantial portion of the patients at both nursing homes are on Medicaid, and Bishop testified Medicaid reimbursements do not completely cover the cost of care.

The board of assessments has to rule on the appeals by the end of October, said Gary Martin, the county's chief appraiser.

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