Castle's tax-exempt status still in limbo
May 12, 2010
MOULTONBORO — A decision on the Lakes Region Conservation Trust's tax-exempt status is still pending with selectmen wanting more information on Castle in the Clouds' management and projects.
Don Berry, president of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, met with the Board of Selectmen during Thursday's meeting.
The previous week, selectmen agreed to hold on a vote granting the LRCT tax-exempt status pending further information on the trust and the status of Castle in the Clouds. The decision was the result of board members' concerns about the Castle's revenue and past lack of communication.
Berry said all conservation land under the LRCT is available for recreational use free of charge, and they only recommend a donation.
"We believe that we have filed everything," Berry said. "We believe we meet the requirements of that status. Our charitable (programs) are to have open land for the benefit of the communities."
Berry said the LRCT bought the Castle property in 2002 to preserve a historic estate and the land and recreational trails around it. In total, the area of the castle comprises 5,381 acres.
The Castle is now under a separate nonprofit organization called the Castle Preservation Society.
Berry said last fall the Trust came to the Planning Board to subdivide the property into two sections, one for the buildings on the property and the other for the rest of the land and trails. The buildings would be managed by the Castle Preservation Society while the LRCT would oversee the rest of the land. The organizations are also working on the transition through the New Hampshire Probate Court.
Selectman Betsey Patten said it would be best if representatives from the Castle Preservation Society come in and ask for their own exemption. Berry said he would get in contact with Castle Preservation Society Chair Anne Hackl about meeting with the selectmen, which he said should not be a problem.
The Castle Preservation Society has been a separate nonprofit since 2005. The Castle remains under the LRCT's exemption and would apply for its own exemption next year.
Patten said it would be a good faith effort for representatives from the Castle to present their own information.
Berry said the Castle does not make much profit and the LRCT does not receive any revenue from it. Any revenue goes into maintaining and restoring the buildings and land.
"Just because it's not really making any money doesn't mean it's a nonprofit," Patten said, saying she wanted to see the Castle Society's paperwork. "I think it would be a measure of good faith if they've been doing this for five years."
Board Chair Joel Mudgett said he was concerned about the fact the LRCT's director is making around $109,000 a year.
Resident Nat King said many directors of nonprofit organizations make much higher salaries.
Members of the board also said they took issue with the LRCT's past refusal to help pay for the Ossipee Park Road project and how representatives have not spoken with the selectmen when asked to come and talk about issues.
Berry said he would be "more than willing" to come in and discuss any issues and he wanted to have good communication with the selectmen.
Resident Alan Ballard, who raised concerns about the LRCT's tax-exempt status during the previous week's meeting, listed the number of calls received by the Police and Fire Departments at the Castle including accidents, alarm activations, and other calls. Ballard said the Police and Fire Department budgets have been getting tighter.
"I think in all fairness it would make sense and have them come in and talk to the selectmen about the services they use," Ballard said. The LRCT and the Castle Preservation Society should "simply say to the Board of Selectmen, 'We're happy to be in Moultonboro, we realize we're heavy users of town services. We would be more than happy to entertain a Payment in Lieu of Taxes.'"
Berry said he could not make that commitment because the Castle Preservation Society was separate from the LRCT.
"I would hate to see this come to a point where the LRCT has to install a user fee to hunters or hikers to cover taxes," King said.
Mudgett said the board needed to review applications and ask questions before making any decision.
Resident Cristina Asjian said Moultonboro has many historic and cultural elements with a great need to preserve land.
"We are extraordinarily lucky that organizations like the Lakes Region Conservation Trust have stepped in and done that for our public in Moultonboro," Asjian said.
"It has no reflection on my feelings on conservation," said Selectman Ed Charest, saying the Castle "is probably one of the most beautiful historic sites in the state."
Charest said he was disappointed with the historic lack of response from the LRCT, saying he was not pleased that a response finally came under these circumstances.
"It was a day late and a dollar short," Charest said.
Members of the board agreed that they were not ready to make a decision that night and wanted to speak to representatives from the Castle. Berry said he would contact Hackl about arranging a meeting.