Prince William Co. supervisors consider lifting tax-break moratorium for nonprofits

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The Prince William Board of County Supervisors is considering expanding the use of property tax exemptions for certain nonprofits, a move that would reverse a moratorium put in place on new tax-exempt designations.

On Tuesday, the board issued a directive to county staff to “research and make recommendations for lifting the moratorium on tax exemptions by designation.” The moratorium has been in place since 2011.

The broad language used in Democratic Woodbridge Supervisor Margaret Franklin’s directive followed an earlier proposal from Republican Gainesville Supervisor Bob Weir to consider granting new tax-exempt status specifically to the Willing Warriors charitable organization in Haymarket.

Between Tuesday’s meeting and the April 25 meeting that preceded it, Republicans and Democrats on the board went back and forth on Weir’s proposal, which he ultimately agreed to withdraw on Tuesday.

Democrats on the board said lifting the moratorium one by one for specific organizations would make for bad policy. They attached language to Weir’s proposal that would have included organizations serving immigrant communities with buildings larger than 10,000 square feet, meant to include CASA Prince William.

When Republicans withdrew the original resolution, with its language regarding veterans and immigrant service organizations, Franklin stepped in with her broader staff directive on Tuesday.

“If you’re going to, on the fly, open up and carve out one single organization, I’ve had at least 10 or 15 organizations ask me for this kind of thing over the last three years. I am certainly going to say that there are ones that deserve it,” Chair Ann Wheeler, a Democrat, said Tuesday.

“It’s a large county with a lot of wonderful nonprofits that own property and do wonderful things for a lot of different groups.”

Weir said adding language specifically targeting CASA, whose political action committee has donated to statewide and local Democratic candidates, including Wheeler, was meant as a giveaway to a donor organization.

“With respect to adding CASA and the 10,000 square-foot requirement, I will be brutally honest. Perception is reality in many cases, and I view this as a quid pro quo … for a charitable organization that has a political arm that has made significant, substantial contributions to campaign funds of many people on this board and done campaign endorsements,” Weir said.

Neither Weir’s withdrawn resolution nor Franklin’s staff directive would change the tax-exempt status of any organization outright. Both were meant to begin the process of considering the changes. County staff will eventually return with a report on the ways in which the county might lift the moratorium and start granting tax exemptions once again.

Wheeler said the county had $41 million in tax abatements in the county, some of which were granted before the moratorium and some of which are mandated by the state government.

Several representatives from Willing Warriors, which organizes retreats and other events for wounded veterans, spoke during the meeting’s public comment period to ask for a tax exemption. In 2023, the organization’s retreat house had an assessed value of $1.039 million, leaving the group with a $10,780 tax bill.

“The retreat … at Bull Run supports not just the veterans and the service members who are going through their issues at Walter Reed Bethesda and Quantico … but it also supports the community as a whole,” said Rick Ferry, a Willing Warriors board member. “I’d ask that you consider it and do your due diligence.”

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