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Votes

Hughes Gets Tax Break

Board of Supervisors adopts tax exemption policy, grants three tax exemptions.

Supervisor Mark Herring (D-Leesburg) struggled with Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)'s tax exemption request.

Herring weighed the "magnitude of the exemption," estimated to reach $5.8 million in 2008 when HHMI's biomedical research campus opens, against its being a charitable and benevolent organization.

"Why would a locality forego several million in tax dollars for this?" he said, answering that HHMI will provide medical research benefits at the international level and education and economic develop opportunities at the local level. "The benefits far outweigh the tax exemptions," he said.

HHMI requested the tax exemption for a 206-acre section of property on Janelia Farm where the non-profit organization plans to build the research campus. Janelia Farm is located on the north side of Route 7 at Ashburn Village Boulevard in Ashburn.

HHMI and two other non-profit organizations received their requested exemptions, as approved by the Board of Supervisors at the Dec. 15 board meeting.

"I believe we should treat all of these entities the same way," said James Burton (I-Mercer). "This organization meets the criteria."

BEFORE THE BOARD approved the requests, the supervisors unanimously adopted a tax exemption policy. The policy authorizes the county to grant tax exemptions to nonprofit organizations that own and use real and personal property for charitable, religious, patriotic, historical, benevolent, cultural, public park and playground purposes. The state transferred the authority to local jurisdictions in November 2002 to grant the exemptions.

"I think it's immature to decide a policy and bang decide an application," said Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who along with Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) voted against HHMI's request. HHMI pays too high of salaries for a non-profit organization and "is not an urgently financially hurting group," he said.

"How big you are and the revenues you make shouldn't be the criteria considered for tax exemptions," said Supervisor William Bogard (I-Sugarland Run). "If it weren't for Howard Hughes — ... there was no plan B — we would still be collecting the same tax amount. There will be businesses that will spring up around Howard Hughes that we will collect taxes from and reap benefits from."

Charles Harris (D-Broad Run) reminded the board that HHMI is requesting a partial tax exemption and will continue to pay commercial taxes on 72 acres of the 278-acre property. The taxes, which in 2003 totaled $424,000, are for the existing office buildings and planned commercial portions on the section.

"The value of this to education is far beyond the monetary value," Harris said.

"I don't think a research entity should be paying taxes," said chairman Scott York (R-At large), adding that the funds instead could be reinvested into research "to better humanity." "It's like the airport. It will be a huge [economic] engine for the county."

The property that HHMI can develop for the campus is 124 acres, since 17 acres will be reserved for a future alignment of Riverside Parkway and another 65 acres are subject to a Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority easement.

THE BOARD UNANIMOUSLY approved the other tax exemptions for Prison Fellowship Ministries, which plans to build its headquarters in the Lansdowne Corporate Park, and the Virginia Regional Transportation Association (VRTA), which has a 3.7-acre transit facility in Purcellville. Prison Fellowship Ministries asked for a $179,000 tax exemption and VRTA, $26,200.

"The magnitude of the exemptions are different, but the policy implications are similar," Hiatt said, adding, "I would prefer the board would take more time."