State Tax Commission of Missouri
THE BRIDGE MINISTRIES,)
GLORIA GOURLEY, ASSESSOR,)
NEWTON COUNTY, MISSOURI,)
DENYING APPLICATION FOR REVIEW
On October 16, 2008, Senior Hearing Officer W. B. Tichenor entered his Decision and Order (Decision) affirming the assessment by the Assessor of Newton County and the Newton County Board of Equalization finding the subject property to not be exempt from taxation.Said Decision stated: “A party may file with the Commission an application for Review of this decision within thirty days of the mailing of such decision.”Complainant emailed to the Commission its Application for Review on November 19, 2008.Time of receipt of a filing by electronic transmission is determined by the commission’s computer.
Section 138.432 RSMo provides in relevant part, “A complainant, respondent-assessor, or other party subject to a decision and order of a hearing officer, may file with the commission, within thirty days following the date of notification or mailing of such decision and order, an application to have such decision and order reviewed by the commission.”The thirty day period for seeking review with the Commission of a hearing officer’s decision began to run on date of mailing of officer’s order.
Complainant filed its Application for Review of the Decision with the Commission by email transmission on November 19, 2008.Thirty days after October 16, 2008, fell on Saturday, November 15, 2008.The last date on which an application for review of the Hearing Officer’s Decision could have been timely filed was Monday, November 17, 2008.Complainant’s Application for Review was filed out of time.The Commission was divested of subject matter jurisdiction by the Application being filed late.Complainant’s right of appeal was lost by its untimely filing.
Application for Review denied as filed out of time.
Judicial review of this Order may be had in the manner provided in Sections 138.432 and 536.100 to 536.140, RSMo within thirty days of the date of the mailing of this Order.
If judicial review of this decision is made, any protested taxes presently in an escrow account in accordance with this appeal shall be held pending the final decision of the courts unless disbursed pursuant to Section 139.031.8, RSMo.
If no judicial review is made within thirty days, this decision and order is deemed final and the Collector of Newton County, as well as the collectors of all affected political subdivisions therein, shall disburse the protested taxes presently in an escrow account in accord with the decision on the underlying assessment in this appeal.
SO ORDERED December 16, 2008.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
Bruce E. Davis, Chairman
Charles Nordwald, Commissioner
DECISION AND ORDER
Assessment by Assessor that subject property was not tax exempt was sustained by Newton County Board of Equalization.Hearing Officer finds subject property not to be exempt under Section 137.100(5), assessment AFFIRMED.
Real Property assessed at $1,633,780.Personal Property assessed at $50,000.
Complainant appeared by Counsel, John Nicholas, Carthage, Missouri.
Respondent appeared by Counsel, Jacob Skouby, Prosecuting Attorney.
Case submitted on Exhibits.
Decided by Senior Hearing Officer, W. B. Tichenor.
The Commission takes this appeal to determine whether the subject real property is exempt from taxation under Section 137.100(5), RSMo for the tax years 2007 and 2008 and
whether the subject personal property is exempt from taxation under Section 137.100(5), RSMo for the tax year 2007.
Complainant appeals the decision of the Newton County Board of Equalization.Respondent assessed the subject real and personal property as non-exempt property.The Board of Equalization did not change the assessment.Complainant contends the subject property is exempt from taxation under the provisions of Section 137.100(5).Case submitted on documents filed by Complainant. The Hearing Officer, having considered all of the competent evidence upon the whole record and the Briefs filed by the parties, enters the following Decision and Order.
FINDINGS OF FACTS
1. Complainant filed the following exhibits:
Written Direct Testimony of Dan Mitchell, President/CEO – Bridge Ministries, Inc.
Copies of website pages from www.thebridgejoplin.com
Packet of twenty-two contribution letters dated from 2002 through 2007.
IRS 501 (c) (3) Letter, to Bridge Ministries, Inc., dated 9/29/04
State of Missouri Sales and Use Tax Exemption Letter, dated 7/11/2002
Neighborhood Assistance Program Agreement & Appendixes, dated June 29, 2005
No objection made to the exhibits.Exhibits received into evidence.
3. The real property under appeal is located at 3405 S. Hammons Blvd, Joplin, Missouri.It is identified by Uniform Parcel Number 04-4-19-5.14.No listing of personal property, for which exemption was being sought, was entered into evidence.Complainant’s personal property account number is 73-11624-0000.Complainant owns 59.2 acres. Complainant is not seeking an exemption on 49.2 undeveloped acres.
4. The Assessor valued 1.59 acres at $74,700 and the improvements thereon at $4,008,800 – Total appraised value of $4,083,500.The assessed value of the 1.59 acres as commercial property is $1,306,723.The Assessor valued 57.52 acres at $2,725,500, assessed value of $327,060.The Assessor placed an assessed value of $50,000 on Complainant’s personal property.
7. Exhibits C, D, E and F provide no information relevant as to how the real or personal property under appeal is used for charitable, religious or educational purposes that would qualify the Complainant’s property for exemption under §137.100(5), RSMo.
8. Exhibits A and B did not constitute substantial and persuasive evidence that the use of the real and personal property was for charitable, religious or educational purposes.
9. Complainant failed to establish that the property under appeal was used exclusive for charitable, religious or educational purposes.
10. Property under appeal is not exempt from taxation under §137.100(5), RSMo.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Burden of Proof
Complainant has the burden to present substantial evidence to rebut the presumption of correct assessment by the Board of Equalization.In order to meet this burden in an appeal seeking exemption from taxation, the Complainant must meet the substantial burden to establish that the property falls within an exempted class under the provisions of Section 137.100. It is well established that taxation is the rule and exemption from taxation is the exception.Exemption is not favored in the law.Complainant seeks exemption of its property from taxation pursuant to Section 137.100(5):
The following subjects are exempt from taxation for state, county or localpurposes:
(5) All property, real and personal, actually and regularly used exclusively for …purposes purely charitable and not held for private or corporate profit, except that the
exemption herein granted does not include real property not actually used or occupied
for the purpose of the organization but held or used as investment even though the
income or rentals received therefore is used wholly for — charitable purposes;
Complainant’s substantial burden of proof has not been met in the present case.
The phrase “used exclusively” for purposes of determining whether a property is tax exempt due to an exclusive charitable use refers to the primary and inherent use as opposed to a mere secondary and incidental use.Complainant’s evidence failed to establish the primary and inherent use of the ten acres of the subject property or any other part thereof was for a charitable, religious or educational use.Any use of the property which might be charitable, religious or education is a mere secondary or incidental use of the building known as The Bridge.
Franciscan Tertiary Test
In order to meet the burden of proof that the subject property is used “exclusively for … purposes purely charitable, and not held for private or corporate profit….”Complainant must
The first prerequisite for property to be exempt as charitable under §137.100 is that it be owned and operated on a not-for-profit basis.It must be dedicated un-conditionally to the charitable activity in such a way that there will be no profit, presently or prospectively, to individuals or corporations.Any gain achieved in use of the building must be devoted to attainment of the charitable objectives of the project…. [A]n exemption will not be granted covering property which houses a business operated for the purpose of gaining a profit, even though it is turned over to a parent organization to be used for what are admittedly independently…charitable purposes.
The requirement that the property must be operated as a not-for-profit activity does not mean that it is impermissible for the project at times or even fairly regularly to operated in the black rather than on a deficit basis, provided, of course, that any such excess of income over expenses, is achieved incidentally to accomplishment of the dominantly charitable objective and is not a primary goal of the project, and provided further that all of such gain is devoted to the charitable objectives of the project.
Another prerequisite for charitable exemption is that the dominant use of the property must be for the benefit of an indefinite number of people, for thepurpose, as expressed in Salvation Army, of “ … by bringing their hearts under the influence of education or religion … .” 188 S.W.2d at 830…. Thus it is required that there be the element of direct or indirect benefit to society in addition to and as a result of the benefit conferred on the persons directly served by the humanitarian activity.
The elements of the test to be met under Franciscan are:
1.Property must be owned and operated on a not-for-profit basis;
2.Property must be actually and regularly used exclusively for a charitable purpose; and
3.Property must be used for the benefit of an indefinite number of persons and for society in general, directly or indirectly.
The failure to meet any one of the three elements requires denial of exemption.As addressed in detail below, Complainant has failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence to meet this test.
Hearing Officer’s Authority To Investigate
The Hearing Officer has the authority to inquire of either party regarding any matter or issue relevant to the issue presented in the appeal.The decision of the Hearing Officer may be based upon his inquiry and any evidence presented by the parties to the Commission.The Hearing Officer inquired of the Respondent to obtain a copy of the 2007 Business Assessment List and the first page of the Property Record Card for the Complainant’s personal and real property.
Complainant offered as evidence the documents denoted in Finding of Fact 1, above.
Exhibits C, D, E and F provide no information on how the real or personal property is used in a charitable, religious or educational manner.
Exhibit A only provides the following that addresses the issue of use of the property.
“The Bridge building consists of a large open area where no one is charged any admission to enter which includes a basketball court that is free to all who wish to use it, and large study areas and open areas with a snack bar and computer labs for the teenager’s use.There also is a rock climbing wall, a skate part, and a stage area.Each of these areas is utilized by The Bridge and the The Bridge employees in helping to enjoy activities with the people who use them together building relationships, and through these events mentoring the teens into their religion.There are use fees on certain activities to recoup costs.
“Again, every activity on the developed property is designed to provide teenagers of the community a safe environment to draw these teenagers towards the building and get them off the street where we can then either introduce or strengthen their religious foundations specifically by introducing them to Jesus Christ.
Additional a portion of the developed property is currently utilized by several area school districts as the Beacon School Program designed for children who are having difficulty in a traditional school setting, to receive alternate educational services.”
The foregoing is the totality of the testimony addressing the actual and regular use of the building known as “The Bridge.”
What Bridge Ministries, Inc. does was described as:
“The Bridge exists to attract and welcome all teens and connect them to Christ.It is the mission of The Bridge Ministries to attract teenage children through activities and events that are safe and they would enjoy, to develop relationships and to lead them to a relationship with Jesus Christ.Everything done at The Bridge is designed to introduce or strengthen teenager’s relationship with Jesus Christ and to help them get connected with a local church of the Christian faith.”
Exhibit B is a compilation of what appears to be (1) copies of pamphlets or brochures about The Bridge; (2) a solicitation form to purchase bricks for a decorative walkway; and (3) a PowerPoint presentation promoting The Bridge.No testimony was given explaining Exhibit B.The building and the activities presented in it are described in the following terms from the brochures:
“It’s where your friends are, Joplin’s Entertainment Adventure, Rock Climbing, Concerts, Gaming, Art, Basketball, Events, Skateboarding, BMX, Wi-Fi, Dodgeball, Music, Mac Lab, The Bridge Climbing Gym, Bridge Gaming – Leagues, Tournaments, State-of-the-art gaming center, Wireless Hotspot, The Midwest’s Premier Concert Hall, One of the
premier skate and BMX parts in the county, Pro Shop with a huge selection of skate and BMX apparel and equipment”
Other descriptions include:
“The Bridge is a new 64,000 square foot entertainment destination.It is a revolutionary concept that offers something for everyone.Whether you’re coming to spend a few days or just stopping through, The Bridge is one destination you don’t want to miss.”
“The Midwest’s Premier Concert Hall.7,000 square foot state of the art music venue; live music, art shows, film festivals; Upscale soda/coffee bar featuring eclectic bottle and draught sodas, energy drinks and Equal Exchange Fairly Traded Coffees and Expresso.”
“The Bridge Climbing Gym, 40’ Climbing Wall, Bouldering Wall, and Outdoors Store, Participants must have waiver to climb.”
“Whether you’re a teen looking for a place to hang out or a family looking for a fun adventure in Joplin, don’t miss THE BRIDGE!”
“FREE T-SHIRT with session purchase.This coupon is good for a FREE Bridge t-Shirt with the purchase of a 3-hr session.”
The brochure has the following Mission statement:
“The Bridge exists to attract and welcome all youth and connect them to Christ.The Bridge is equal parts ministry and attraction.On one hand we are striving to be the new Main Street – the place where you go to be with your friends.On the other hand, The Bridge is a ministry where our staff members are behind the scenes listening, connecting, loving, sharing, and sacrificing to bring the hope of Christ to everyone through their actions, attitude, and words.Our promise is to never exclude anyone based on belief, custom, nationality, disability, or political alignment.We simply want the chance to hear your ideas and to share our lives and hope with you.”
Due to the failure of Complainant to provide any documentation with regard to the assessment data on the property being appealed, the Hearing Officer obtained a copy of documentation from the Respondent.The 2007 Business Assessment List for Account Number
73-11624-0000 is designated as Exhibit 1.The first page of the Property Record Card on Complainant’s property is designated as Exhibit 2.
Property Under Appeal
Complainant provided only the sketchiest of information regarding the real and personal property that is the subject of this appeal.Complainant’s witness conceded that 10 acres of a total of 59.2 were “developed.”The claim of exemption only related to the “developed” acres.However, the evidence only establishes that a structure identified as The Bridge, which apparently occupies less than two acres (60,000 square feet), is the claimed exempt property.Complainant also claims as exempt its personal property.No itemized listing of the claimed personal property was submitted into evidence.No evidence was presented to establish how the unknown personal property was actually used in conjunction with any alleged charitable, religious or educational endeavors.
Speculation, Conjecture and Surmise
Complainant has failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence to satisfy the three elements of the Franciscan test.A taxpayer does not meet its burden of proof if evidence on any essential element of the case leaves the Commission “in the nebulous twilight of speculation, conjecture and surmise.”See, Rossman v. G.G.C. Corp. Of Missouri, 596 S.W.2d 469, 471 (Mo. App. 1980).The evidence presented leaves the Hearing Officer “in the nebulous twilight of speculation, conjecture and surmise” on the critical issue of a charitable, religious or educational use of The Bridge.
Mission of Complainant
It appears that Complainant is of the opinion that because the mission of the corporation and for The Bridge is in the nature of a religious ministry, that its property qualifies for tax exemption.Such an opinion is in error.The focus of the inquiry is not the nature or mission of the owning entity.The focus is the actual and regular use of the property.The point was settled in Franciscan.“The general nature of the owning organization other than that it is not-for-profit cannot be said to determine whether the use of the particular property is charitable or not.
Simply because an organization has a mission statement or statements in a brochure setting forth a religious goal or mission that does not establish that the primary and inherent use of a given property is for a religious purpose.All that was presented in the evidentiary record were claims as to the mission statement of Bridge Ministries Incorporated.There was no evidence establishing any actual, regular, primary and inherent use of The Bridge to achieve the mission statement.
501 (c) (3) Status
The fact that in 2004 Complainant was given exemption from Federal income tax proves nothing as to how the subject property is being used.The granting of exemption from federal income tax predates the construction of the building known as The Bridge.Recognition as a 501 (c) (3) entity is only a factor that supports the not for profit status of a corporation.It is irrelevant to establish how any given property is being used.
Missouri Sales and Use Tax Exemption
The granting of the Limited Exemption in 2002 from sales and use tax in Missouri is irrelevant to establishing a charitable, religious or educational use of the property under appeal. This is recognition that an organization has exempt status under the sales and use tax laws of Missouri.It does not equate to an exemption from ad valorem property taxes under Missouri law.
Beacon School Program
Complainant contends that a “portion of the developed property is currently utilized by several area school districts as the Beacon School Program.”The evidence fails to establish that as of January 1, 2007, or January 1, 2008, the extent of such use of the subject real property and/or personal property by the Program.No evidence was presented as to a lease agreement with the Program.It was not established that space was donated to the Program.No evidence was presented relating to financial matters (contract rent) concerning the use of the facilities by the Program.Complainant presented no evidence to establish the frequency of use and the amount of space utilized by the Program at the Bridge.No evidence established the Program used Complainant’s personal property at The Bridge.
The evidence is insufficient to establish that a primary use of any significant portion of the Complainant’s building or personal property was utilized for an educational purpose on a regular basis.The use of some portion of The Bridge by an outside educational entity does not establish that the primary and inherent use of the property, real and personal, is for an educational purpose.The best that can be concluded is that Complainant apparently leases some space to the Beacon School Program.Such leasing would simply be a commercial venture, not an educational purpose.Furthermore, leasing of space does not further the mission statement of Complainant.Even if the space is donated, the evidence is not substantial and persuasive to grant the exemption because of this limited use.
Franciscan Test Not Met
Ownership of Property
The Hearing Officer, based upon the Assessor’s records, concludes that The Bridge Ministries Inc. in fact owns the property under appeal.However, the record failed to establish by documentary evidence or admission of uncontested fact that as of January 1, 2007, Complainant was in good standing as a not for profit corporation under the laws of the state of Missouri.The Hearing Officer for purposes of this Decision will assume that was the case.Therefore, the ownership factor of the first element of Franciscan is met.
Operation on Not For Profit Basis
As to the operation factor of Franciscan’s first prong, Complainant has failed to satisfy this requirement.Complainant elected to present no audited financial records of the operation of the property under appeal.The Hearing Officer has no information as to the financial operation of The Bridge.It appears the Complainant is supported by various donations and/or grants. However, this does not establish that any profit made by the Bridge “is achieved incidentally to accomplishment of the dominantly charitable objective and is not a primary goal of the project, and provided further that all of such gain is devoted to the charitable objectives of the project.” 
Fees to Recoup Costs
Testimony that “There are use fees on certain activities to recoup costs” is insufficient to establish that making of a profit is not the primary goal of The Bridge.The omission of evidence of the exact use fees and for what activities is glaring.Evidence establishing exactly what fees are charged and for what activities is required.The Hearing Officer has no basis to conclude that collection of fees only accounts for recouping costs at The Bridge.If the collection of fees constitutes income of expenses with the profit going to Complainant, then the profit is not being “devoted to the charitable objectives of the project.”
Sale of Merchandise, Goods & Services
The list of activities references a number of items for which it would appear that merchandise, goods and services are being sold.
Skateboard Apparel and Equipment
It is inconceivable that a skateboard Pro Shop is giving away skateboards and skating apparel.No financial records were presented to establish that such donations were being made to skateboarding teenagers to entice them to come to The Bridge.It is most reasonable to assume, given there is no evidence to the contrary, such merchandise is being sold.If that is the case this is a commercial venture.The fact that there may be some sharing of a Christian message in some of the activities at The Bridge does not overcome the simple fact that sale of merchandise does not constitute a religious activity under any case law, statutes or for that matter generally recognized Christian practices.
Premier Concert Hall
No financial records were presented addressing the operation of the concert hall.Complainant failed to establish that the live music, art shows and film festivals were free of charge.It is unclear that Complainant does in fact put on the shows and festivals or whether it simply rents space for the holding of these activities. If the concert hall is rented to outside entities for the listed activities, an accounting of the income and expenses related to such lease arrangements is required. If fees are charged for use of the concert hall for presentation of the
listed and other activities, an accounting of such fees and related expenses is appropriate and necessary in order to determine the alleged exempt use of The Bridge.
Upscale Soda & Coffee Bar
There is no evidence establishing the financial operation of the “upscale soda and coffee bar.”The Hearing Officer might speculate that Complainant gives away liquid refreshments to persons who come to The Bridge.However, the more reasonable conclusion, given no evidence on this point, is that the soda, coffee, energy drinks and express are being sold.Therefore, an accounting of the income and expenses related to this merchandising venture should have been presented.
3 Hour Session Purchase
One of the apparent enticements to get people to attend The Bridge is the giving away of a “Free T-Shirt with a three hour session purchase.This implies that there is a type of cover charge for some activities or services provided at The Bridge.Here again, Complainant elected to provide no financial records relative to the amount of income from the sale of session purchases and an accounting of such income.
The Bridge has a “state-of-the-art gaming center.No evidence was presented explaining and describing what exactly this is or how it operates.Apparently there are gaming leagues and gaming tournaments held at The Bridge.Once more, any financial accounting on the
operating of this aspect of The Bridge is absent.It is unknown if Complainant provides this service at no charge or at some charge.
Complainant’s evidence failed to establish that The Bridge is operated on a not-for-profit basis.It fails this part of the first prong of the Franciscan test.Therefore, while the ownership of the 59.2 acres is in a not-for-profit entity, the operation of none of the property was established as being on a not-for-profit basis.Furthermore, there is no evidence that the unknown personal property was used on a not-for-profit basis.The exemption must be denied on this basis alone.
Use for Charitable Purpose
Complainant’s request for exemption from taxation on ten of the 59.2 acres must be denied because no substantial and persuasive evidence was presented to establish operation on a not for profit basis.In addition, the evidence failed to establish that the primary and inherent use of ten acres or just the building known as The Bridge, as well as the Complainant’s personal property was for a charitable purpose, as required by law.There is no showing in any manner of how the mission of Complainant is carried out at The Bridge.
No evidence was presented to demonstrate how the various recreational activities bring the hearts of patrons of The Bridge under the “influence of education or religion.It is clear that the Complainant’s mission actually has no religious component to it.The mission of Complainant is a religious endeavor.
The Hearing Officer has nothing but speculation as to how skateboarding teenagers are connected to Jesus Christ at The Bridge.It is left to mere surmise to establish how or if an espresso bar strengthens a teenager’s Christian relationship.The giving of a free T-Shirt with the purchase of a 3-hour session pass might connect a teenager with a local Christian church, but it would be simple conjecture on the part of the Hearing Officer to so conclude.
Based upon the testimony of Complainant’s President and CEO, it is reasonable to conclude that there are no organized Bible studies, group sessions on religious themes, individual counseling in spiritual matters or other organized activities to carry out the mission of Complainant.No evidence was presented from which the Hearing Officer can conclude that any such activities take place at The Bridge.How exactly a Christian message is presented to persons visiting The Bridge is unknown.What form any message of faith might take for patrons of The Bridge was not demonstrated.The assertion of employees “mentoring the teens into their religion” was not demonstrated by any supporting documentary evidence.
Complainant failed to present any evidence as to exactly in what manner “everything done at The Bridge is designed to introduce or strengthen teenager’s (sic) relationship with Jesus Christ and help them get connected with a local church of the Christian faith.”The only conclusion one can reach based upon the evidentiary record is that the primary and inherent use of The Bridge (60,000 square feet of the subject property) is as a teenage recreation and entertainment center.This is a very laudable use of this portion of Complainant’s property.However, it does not qualify as an exempt use. Any religious use of the building is completely secondary and incidental to the use of The Bridge as a commercial venture.
Complainant’s property is owned by a not-for-profit entity.Complainant failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence to establish the property was operated on a not-for-profit basis.Complainant failed to present substantial and persuasive evidence the property was actually and regularly used exclusively for a religious or educational purpose.Therefore, the operation and actual and regular use of the property was not shown to meet the required standard of the first and second prongs of the Franciscan test.The request for exemption from taxation on ten acres of the subject property and on Complainant’s personal property is denied.
The assessment of the subject property made by the Assessor and not changed by the Board of Equalization for Newton County for the subject tax day is AFFIRMED.
The assessed value for the real property for tax years 2007 and 2008 is set at $1,633,780.
The assessed value for the personal property for tax year 2007 is set at $50,000.
A party may file with the Commission an application for review of this decision within thirty days of the mailing of such decision.The application shall contain specific grounds upon which it is claimed the decision is erroneous.Said application must be in writing addressed to the State Tax Commission of Missouri, P.O. Box 146, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0146, and a copy of said application must be sent to each person at the address listed below in the certificate of service.
The Collector ofNewton County, as well as the collectors of all affected political subdivisions therein, shall continue to hold the disputed taxes pending a filing of an Application for Review, unless said taxes have been disbursed pursuant to a court order under the provisions of Section 139.031.8, RSMo.
Any Finding of Fact which is a Conclusion of Law or Decision shall be so deemed.Any Decision which is a Finding of Fact or Conclusion of Law shall be so deemed.
SO ORDERED October 16, 2008.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MISSOURI
W. B. Tichenor, Chief Hearing Officer
 See, Bethesda Barclay House v. Ciarleglio, 88 S.W. 3d (Mo. App. ED 2002); Pentecostal Church of God v. Hughlett, 601 S.W.2d 666 (Mo 1980); St. John’s Mercy Hospital v. Leachman, 552 S.W.2d 723 (Mo 1977); Mo United Methodist Retirement Homes v. STC, 522 S.W.2d 745 (Mo. 1975); Salvation Army v. Hoehn, 188 S.W.2d 826 (Mo. 1945).