Officials Respond To Lawsuit Between University and County

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Officials for the University of Arkansas and Washington County responded Thursday to a lawsuit filed over property taxes, with each side saying it will not back down.

The university’s attorney, Scott Varady, said administrators believe the university should be able to claim certain tax exemptions and collect taxes the university paid over the last two years.

“We believe that the university property is immune to taxation under the Arkansas Constitution,” Varady said. “All of the property is being used exclusively for their public purpose of operating a modern public university and therefore would be exempt from taxation.”

County Assessor Jeff Williams said the university’s property does not meet the definition of tax-exempt property.

“'I determined that there was some property that was up next to the university, on the university grounds or near the university, that I did not believe met the constitutional requirements,” Williams said. “'Every step of the way, I always look and see if we are doing the most fair and equitable thing in our determination. If the court points out some things that may need to be addressed, we will look at that.”

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 18 with the Washington County Circuit Clerk, seeks tax refunds for all personal property taxes paid by the university in 2010 and 2011, according to documents from the Circuit Clerk.

Administrators believe several parcels of land owned by the university should be exempt from property taxes, according to the lawsuit.

“In April and May 2011, the…Washington County Assessor distributed Commercial Personal Property Assessment forms to various locations on the university campus,” the suit states. “These forms covered university-owned personal property that had previously never been assessed by the Washington County Assessor.”

Following a dispute over which UA parcels of land were exempt from taxes, the university submitted tax payments in protest and notified of the county of their intent to seek an appeal.

Disputed parcels of land include several student rental properties, green spaces and student eateries.

No court date has yet been set in the case.

The Fayetteville School District decided Thursday night to intervene in the lawsuit for its own financial interests.