Saturday, May 12, 2007

Glebe lawyers say retirement community is benevolent and religious in final arguments

The Fincastle Herald
Anita Firebaugh

The Glebe says it is benevolent and religious because the Virginia General Assembly designated it so.

“Because defendants have shown at trial that the Glebe is a [continuous care retirement community] being operated in a Christian atmosphere and on a not-for-profit basis, they have established VBH is entitled to its property tax exemption. The case is as simple as that.” That’s what The Glebe’s legal counsel said in its final written arguments over whether the retirement community in Daleville should pay Botetourt County taxes.

Botetourt County took Virginia Baptist Homes and The Glebe, which VBH owns, to court after Commissioner of the Revenue Jay Etzler challenged VBH’s contention The Glebe is tax exempt.

The Glebe is a continuous care retirement community in Daleville.

The county filed suit early in 2006 and the case went to trial a year later. If The Glebe prevails, the county will be unable to collect an annual tax of over $240,000 in local taxes.

The case went to trial in March and Judge Michael S. Irvine ordered the two entities to file final written arguments before he rules on the case. Botetourt County filed its final written argument in late April; VBH filed its rebuttal on May 8 as stipulated by the judge.

In its 27-page post-trial brief, VBH says, “The operation of continuing care retirement communities in a Christian atmosphere on a not-for-profit basis has been VBH’s sole purpose for almost 60 years.”

Botetourt County has argued that the mission of VBH has changed to a for-profit status, but the defendant calls that simply a modification of corporate structure and a “trumped-up argument” by the plaintiff.

VBH notes that The Glebe’s bylaws state the facility is charged with providing care to the elderly “either free of charge or for compensation.” The defendant argues that while some of the wording “may have changed in 60 years to reflect modern practices, the substance is unchanged.”

The Glebe, which cost $64 million to build and open, received $9 million from VBH for construction of the facility; most of the remaining monies were financed.

VBH said it does subsidize the care received by its elderly residents. Entrance fees are supposed to make up the difference for the higher costs of assisted living and nursing care, but that is not always the case. “VBH expects that it will provide financial assistance to residents of the Glebe, just as it has for many years” at its three other facilities, the brief says.

Additionally, VBH has never asked a resident to leave because of financial reasons. According to the brief, the only reason the Glebe required its initial residents to be able to pay through their expected years of life was because it was a start-up. Now the facility is admitting residents who may live more than two-years beyond their ability to pay.

Additionally, “at least one resident has already been admitted to the Glebe who did not meet the Glebe’s so-called financial requirements,” the brief says.

The defendants also attack the credibility of the county’s expert witnesses, calling the financial analysis of an accountant “flawed” and “made up.”

VBH cites several examples of case law to back up its claims and claims the Glebe is not profitable.

The defendant dismisses much of the county’s arguments against it as being without merit, including its argument that the Glebe is neither religious nor benevolent.

“The operation of the Glebe reflects a central belief of Baptists that it is their religious duty to care for the elderly and to provide such care in a loving fashion that provides dignity and independence at a time in life when both are commonly threatened,” the brief says.

Additionally, the county in early May filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider evidence he originally excluded. VBH responded with a motion asking the judge to deny the county’s motion, claiming the evidence is hearsay.

A ruling from Judge Irvine as to the Glebe’s tax status is expected in the next few weeks.

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