VALPARAISO — The North Porter County Conservation Club is attempting to hold on to its tax-exempt status, arguing Monday morning that it qualifies for the financial relief because of its educational and charitable efforts.
The club is open to qualified members and provides education in the safe handling of firearms, said Christopher Oakes, a Schaumburg, Illinois, attorney who represented the club during a short hearing before the Porter County Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.
After board attorney Robert Schwerd raised the question, Oakes said the club also qualifies for a charitable exemption because it leases its site out for police training that could otherwise cost taxpayers more money.
Board of Appeals President Nick Sommer said the group took the request under consideration, and while it has 120 days, a decision likely will come sooner.
The 72-year-old club's tax-exempt status came into question in December in the wake of noise complaints. The club is at 933 N. Calumet Ave. in Liberty Township.
Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder said the last application, which was from 10 years ago, is incomplete.
The application, which predates Snyder's time in office, lists the word "agricultural" and a state code in the area where the reason for the exemption is supposed to be explained.
The gun club pays no property taxes, according to Snyder. Its property is valued at $105,900, which would translate into about $2,800 a year in taxes.
Oakes acknowledged Monday that the agricultural designation was incorrect, but said it predates his representation of the club.
The club hosts events that welcome nonmembers, he said.
To become a member and gain regular access to the club, individuals must be citizens of the United States, at least 18 years old and a member of the National Rifle Association, said Club Secretary Fred Eicke.
Area police departments regularly use the club for training, Oakes said.
Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds has said his department shoots once a month at the club.
"They've been gracious hosts for us," he said.
The Valparaiso Police Department shoots at the site about 25 times each year, Sgt. Mike Grennes said.
The officers are often at the club shooting at the same time as other departments, he said.