Turpentine Creek in tax trouble

Monday, July 14, 2003

Despite its tax-exempt 501-C3/509-82 status, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has to raise $26,000 by July 29 for county property taxes, or the facility will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The 462-acre refuge, located near the Madison County line south of Eureka Springs, is well-known for its big cats, rescued from being "put down."

It is not the first time the refuge has faced going out of business because of back property taxes.

The Carroll County Equalization Board and Judge Ed Robertson have denied exempting the facility from property taxes.

Hilda Jackson, founding member of the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation, says that denial is based on the fact that the property is in the name of her daughter.

At the time the property was sold, the owner did not sell to the newly-created foundation because it did not have a proven track record. So Jackson's daughter purchased the land and the foundation took out a 100-year lease.

The fact that Jackson's daughter is the owner of record is apparently the basis for the decision by the equalization board and county judge, Jackson said.

"The use of the land should be the determining factor," Jackson maintains. "We really shouldn't have to pay these taxes. No other humane society pays tax on their property. The land here is used strictly for the cats."

Jackson said it costs about $1,200 per day to keep the cats. Meat donations are frequently received by area poultry corporations, and the facility charges admission of $10 for adults, and $6 for senior citizens and children ages 3 to 12 years.

The admission fees appear to be at the heart of Robertson's decision to agree with the equalization board. The judge said tax-exempt status is reserved for pure charities.

Jackson said the refuge does not charge for animals it receives, though some donors do make a contribution.

As of Thursday morning, Jackson had raised about $7,200 and hopes to pay the debt with contributions. She noted that one-third of the $25,892.69 due is penalties and interest. Jackson said partial payment of the back taxes will not be accepted.

If funds are not forthcoming from the public, Jackson said she would ask relatives for the money. Regardless, she said, 'I have faith that I can [pay the taxes]. I could use some help, of course."

If that doesn't happen, the property will be offered for sale in an auction of July 30 at the Inn of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs. Disposition of the animals if the property is sold is uncertain.

Minimum bid would be $120,170, or 20 percent of the property's appraised value. The purchase would also have to pay the delinquent taxes.

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