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Carwash appeals tax exemption case, claims it was strung along by officials

ONTARIO, Ore. — Bluebird Express Car Wash built with the expectation of getting a tax exemption, only to be denied several months later.

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ONTARIO, Ore. — According to www.malheurenterprise.com, the owners of Bluebird Express Car Wash in Ontario, Oregon, appealed the denial of a property tax exemption, claiming that they were “strung along” by Malheur County economic development officials, who promised for months that the exemption was coming and then reneged.

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The company filed the appeal on Nov. 6th with the Oregon Tax Court in the hopes of overturning the decision last August by Greg Smith, county economic development director, that Bluebird did not qualify for the tax break, the article continued.

County Assessor Dave Ingram responded on Nov. 13th that the county’s decision should be upheld because Bluebird’s “business and property are not eligible or qualified for an enterprise zone tax exemption,” the article stated.

Malheur Enterprise conducted an investigation earlier this year that found that Smith’s agency repeatedly made false statements to Bluebird executives, indicating that the tax break was still a possibility, but 11 months later, Smith denied the application after state officials interceded and told Smith that a carwash didn’t qualify for the exemption, the article continued.

“Bluebird Express Car Wash found out through the local newspaper that their application was denied without explanation,” the appeal said.

Recent public record requests show that County Judge Dan Joyce was more involved than previously known in the agency destroying key emails that documented issues regarding Bluebird, the article noted.

Bluebird’s appeal recounted how the company had worked with Smith and his aide, John Braese, to pursue the local property tax exemption, adding that their decision to build in Ontario was in part based on the expectation that they would be spared the taxes, the article added.

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The company said that it had a conference call with Smith and Braese on Nov. 13, 2018, in which they received verbal approval for the tax exemption, the article noted.

“John Braese was quoted as saying that the application was ‘good to go’ and ‘should be approved for five years exemption,’” the claim said. The claim also said that Smith gave the “go ahead” for the company to proceed with its application.

According to the company’s appeal, that call served as a “preauthorization conference” required before applications for the tax break can go forward, since these calls “prevent investments going forward under mistaken premise, tests the business’ proposed operations are eligible for this designation and addresses special local approvals in a timely fashion.”

Over the next 10 months, Bluebird repeatedly sought updates on where its application stood, but it was strung along with various excuses until Smith wrote a letter, dated Aug. 8th, telling the company that it didn’t qualify for the tax break, according to the article.

“On August 8, John Braese delivered news of the denial in person,” the appeal said. “He did not provide details and he did not provide official documentation. Bluebird Express only saw official documentation when a reporter with the Malheur Enterprise reached out with an electronic copy of the denial letter.”

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A month later, Smith wrote the company again, saying, “Malheur County Economic Development apologizes for any information misunderstood or the time frame in which this was handled. We stand ready to assist Bluebird in this venture and any future endeavors.”

Read the original story here.

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