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Posted on May 13, 2015

Gorge may be hit with tax bill

The owners of the Gorge Amphitheatre may owe Grant County a substantial sum, if the county assessor deems that the popular music venue does not belong in the agriculture classification, as it’s been taxed for years.
Assessor Melissa McKnight said a standard audit of all lands in the Quincy area showed that all of the amphitheater land is assessed under current use. That program allows ranchers and farmers to pay taxes based on the current farm use of the land rather than its market value, she said.
“We sent them a letter to let them know that we’ve reviewed it, and it does not appear they fall within the current use requirements,” she said.
McKnight said owners had 30 days to prove that the lands do fall within the current use tax classification, which ends today.
McKnight said she has not yet heard back from owners, and did not know how many acres were involved, or have an estimate of the possible increase in taxes.
She said if the land is taken out of current use, it will be reassessed at a commercial rate, and owners will owe the difference between what they already paid and its current commercial assessment, each year for the past seven years.
“Depending on how many parcels are involved, it could be a large amount,” McKnight said, adding, “I couldn’t tell you how much.”
Live Nation last year reported that in 2013 it paid $46,811 in property taxes, of which $9,430 went to the state, $13,563 to the county and $25,832 to other local governments.
Danny Wilde, general manager for Live Nation, which owns the amphitheater, said he was unaware of the tax issue.
“It sounds like it’s something in its infancy,” he said, adding that once they receive the letter, they’ll look into it and see if there’s any validity to it.
Wilde added that the amphitheater land is a complicated setup, and is leased from various people.
Information about the possible tax change first came to some news organizations – including The Wenatchee World – through a fake news release. The Grant County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday issued a statement, warning that press release is fake.
The false news release said Live Nation had been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes because of its claim that the land was in agricultural use.
One news outlet – NBC Live – posted the news release on its website on Tuesday afternoon.
McKnight said she didn’t know where the news release came from, and emailed the originators to tell them she doesn’t bill people, or order them to pay taxes.
McKnight said some parcels owned by the amphitheater were once also used to produce hay, but that hasn’t been true for several years.
She said some parcels are under different ownership, and some of them may remain in the current use classification.
Some local taxing districts have been concerned about whether the amphitheater pays its fair share of police and medical services when it hosts large, multi-day concerts.
In 2013, the Quincy Valley Medical Center claimed at least 20 percent of its bad debt – or some $400,000 – came from patients who attended Gorge concerts and didn’t pay their bills. That loss was at about $230,000 in 2014, according to the hospital.
State lawmakers from the area worked to pass a bill that would add a $1 surcharge on tickets to help pay for it.
In previous years, other Grant County officials, including the sheriff’s office, have also talked about the strain that certain large concerts have on county emergency resources.


— By K.C. Mehaffey, Wenatchee World