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Rep. Weidner bill could end litigation over Evergreen museums back taxes

Legislature — Evergreen aviation and space museum owes more than $1 million, House Bill 4106 would exempt museums from property taxes


If House Bill 4106 passes, Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum might not have to pay the more than $1 million it owes in back taxes.

The bill, proposed by state Rep. Jim Weidner (R-Yamhill) would create a property tax exemption for history, natural history or science museums that are used to educate the public, used to sell goods related to the educational purpose of the museum or used to sell refreshments to the public while visiting the museum.

“I want to make sure tax assessors don’t tax them because they have a gift shop or coffee shop and use those funds to stay open,” Weidner said. “Especially with having the Evergreen museum right there, this would make sure they do not shut down with their financial struggles.”by: FILE PHOTO - Future uncertain -- The future of Evergreen's for-profit entities remains uncertain as the Oregon Department of Justice's investigations into allegations of funds shared between the company's for-profit and nonprofit subsidiaries continues.

He said the issue came up because “in Yamhill County the tax assessor it trying to tax Evergreen Aviation’s museum because they have a coffee lounge, but it’s all ran by volunteers and proceeds go to the museum.”

Weidner said if this were to happen, the issue could extend further to places like the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

“Every museum is barely making it. To be subject to property taxes in a high value area, that would shut them down,” he said.

During the Feb. 6 first hearing on the bill, Evergreen museum lawyer Kevin Mannix testified that the bill would simply make the longstanding interpretation to exempt cafes and gift shops from property taxes official, which is what Weidner said his intention is.

“People are very supportive because the wording is clear, so we’ll see what happens with that bill,” Weidner said.

But with more than $1.06 million in back taxes and interest due — as released by Yamhill County tax assessor Jeff Ivie, who also spoke at the House Revenue Committee meeting — Gil Riddell, policy director for Association of Oregon Counties, said the bill would exempt parts of Evergreen’s operations that extend past the museum.

“They want to add an exemption for property used in conjunction with public displays,” Riddell said. “Does this include a water park, I wonder?” In addition to its space and air museums, Evergreen also built a popular water park and IMAX theater at its campus in McMinnville. All four entities are considered nonprofit.

Riddell also voiced concern about catering from private events and asked how frequently the IMAX theater is actually used for educational purposes, both of which might be a stretch for exemption status.

The bill is currently in the House Committee on Revenue, awaiting review.

As for Evergreen’s for-profit entities, the future remains uncertain. The Oregon Department of Justice’s investigation into allegations of funds shared between Evergreen’s for-profit and nonprofit subsidiaries continues. Two planes in the aircraft museum remain for sale, as well as allegedly $50,000 still owed on the Spruce Goose.

The museum isn’t the only sector that owes back taxes. Evergreen’s commercial entities also owe more than $240,000 in taxes and interest.

The company filed bankruptcy Dec. 31, estimating its total assets at about $100 million, with total debts of $500 million and as many as 5,000 creditors.



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