LISTEN Community Services will get to keep its $49,000 after all.
Lebanon's board of assessors today voted unanimously to give the nonprofit a tax exemption on its planned thrift megaplex in the former Bridgman's Furniture Store on the Miracle Mile. The city's chief assessor, Rick Vincent, had argued that because LISTEN wasn't actually in the building and using it for its charitable mission as of April 1--the date when the city assesses how property is being used--it should be taxed as commercial space.
LISTEN Executive Director Kyle Fisher and attorney Barry Schuster argued to the board that by April 1, the organization was busy trying to get the building into shape to serve as both a thrift store and a processing area for donations. "We weren’t trying to turn into a for-profit," says Fisher. "We're in there doing construction work in order to get the building ready--construction that’s mandated by the city and the state, for things like ADA access and sprinkler system improvements." LISTEN expects to be open by the end of August.
LISTEN counts on its retail stores for about 85 percent of its $2 million annual budget, and the Bridgman's building is key to its plans. "We need to continue to grow retail," says Fisher "We've seen crazy increases in demand for our services. You could argue that the local economy has never been doing better, but we’ve seen more clients come through our doors than in our history."
Though all of the organization's services--including its food pantry, community dinners, and heating and electrical assistance--have seen rising demand, the biggest jump has come in its housing assistance program. LISTEN provides $500 grants to low-income tenants who are trying to get into an apartment or falling behind on their rent. Last year, it handed out 100 grants. By the end of May this year, it had already given out 160. "Housing costs continue to skyrocket, because the economy is so healthy," says Fisher.
The Lebanon tax assessment would have cut directly into services, Fisher argues. So after the board's vote, "We left the meeting in a very joyous mood. That’s going to really help out this year."