Geer will keep tax-exempt status

NORTH CANAAN — The North Canaan Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) has ruled that Geer will be able to keep its tax-exempt status.

Had the board voted to assess taxes on the nonprofit retirement facility, it could have cost the privately owned local company several hundred thousands of dollars in taxes. 

The extra money would have been a financial boon to the town but could have hurt a company that is one of the town’s major employers. 

North Canaan First Selectman Charlie Perotti expressed some regret at losing the chance to get some additional income for the town but said overall he feels the decision was just. 

“They did what they had to do,” he said of the BAA decision. He added that, “I feel terrific for Geer. And the town will get some additional revenue.”

Perotti was joined by Geer CEO Kevin O’Connell at North Canaan Town Hall on Thursday, May 3, to announce the BAA decision (the BAA was not legally allowed to reveal the decision; only Geer was able to make the information public). 

Also at the meeting were Selectmen Craig Whiting and Christian Allyn. 

Geer was founded 80 years ago in North Canaan and has grown to include several facilities and to offer a number of services including adult day care and Dial-a-Ride. There is a branch of the Northwest Connecticut YMCA on the campus as well as a popular small restaurant called Railway Cafe.

The Geer campus has several different buildings, including the nursing home, which was built in 1969 and is showing its age. 

Threat to tax exemption

Geer has federal 501(c)(3) status but state regulations on tax exemption supercede the federal regulations. It is up to each town’s assessor to interpret the state statute and decide whether an organization qualifies.

North Canaan has a new assessor, Donna Patchen, who officially started work on April 2 but who has been working in the assessor’s office in town since last autumn. 

Every four years, all tax- exempt organizations in Connecticut have to file an M3 to reaffirm their tax-free status. When Patchen prepared the 2018 quadrennial M3 for Geer, she felt that the retirement facility could in fact be taxed by the town.

Patchen told Geer that in her opinion, the facility (which is broken up into five parcels) does not qualify. It is not clear how much the Geer parcels would have been assessed at for tax purposes, but it is believed to be several hundred thousand dollars.

Patchen was previously the assessor for Torrington.

Geer appealed to the BAA in mid April. The three BAA members are Chairman David Jacquier and Thomas Gailes and Richard Crane Sr. The board had 10 business days to make its decision and then seven to notify Geer; the notification was sent out on the last possible day.

A relief

O’Connell was happy to announce on May 3 that Geer made 15 appeals and 13 were granted. Two were denied; Geer will be taxed on eight vehicles that it owns and on 7 vacant acres across Route 7.

In a prepared statement that he shared at the meeting, O’Connell expressed his gratitude to state Sen. Craig Miner (R-30) and state Rep. Brian Ohler (R-64) for their support.

They were “instrumental in helping both parties understand the impact of the decisions we faced,” O’Connell said in the statement. “The law around these issues is not always clear or easy to understand.”

At the May 3 meeting he further praised them for, “helping us keep calm and dealing with this in a professional manner.”

O’Connell said that Geer hopes in the future to build as many as 30 independent-living cottages on the land.

The priority capital project for the moment, though, is the renovation of the nursing home.

“It’s so out of date,” O’Connell said. “It’s not what the public of today wants in a skilled nursing facility.”

Before any esthetic or quality upgrades can be made, essential repairs must be done on, for example, the two elevator banks. 

Geer is now preparing an application to the state of Connecticut for permission to make those and other repairs. Also slated for renovation are 20 rental residences on the property; half of them are rented to Geer employees and serve as an enticement to get high-quality staff. 

Partnership with the town

Large building and renovation projects are generally a financial boon to towns, because the property owners must file building permits for a fee based on the construction costs. The cost of rebuilding the nursing home could be as much as $18 million.

Geer has also been good, Selectman Whiting said, about hiring local workers and purchasing materials in town. 

He and Allyn added that all three selectmen had many calls from town residents who wanted to share their opinions about whether Geer should be taxed. Some felt it should be, others disagreed. But most agreed that Geer is an asset and has helped improve quality of life in many ways. 

O’Connell noted that on average Geer has 90 to 100 employees who are North Canaan residents; “that’s 25 percent of our payroll.”

Whiting noted that several Geer employees are also volunteers with the Canaan Fire Company and that the company allows them to leave work to go on daytime fire calls, “which is a big help to us.”

Selectman Allyn noted that Geer also has been a great place for young people to get first jobs; many of those workers end up with careers in health care. 

Things will be different

O’Connell stressed that this experience has made him realize that Geer needs to work more closely with the town officials and keep them updated on what happens on the campus.

In the past, for example, Geer wouldn’t necessarily notify Town Hall when vehicles were purchased or put out of service; because it wasn’t paying tax on them, that wasn’t fully necessary. 

“We want to look for ways to work with the town, and we want to keep them engaged in our planning and what we are doing,” he said.