INDIANAPOLIS — United Steelworkers Local 6787 is not primarily a charitable or educational entity, and, as a result, its Portage union hall and banquet center are not eligible for a property tax exemption.

In a 12-page ruling, Indiana Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth rejected the union's claim that because its members generally are better educated than other citizens due to participation in union activities, and its buildings sometimes are used for free by charitable groups, that it qualifies to pay no property tax.

She determined that the Indiana Board of Tax Review properly concluded the buildings mainly are used by the union for the personal economic benefit of its members, and any public benefit merely is "incidental" and "pursued for self-interest rather than for altruistic or philanthropic motives."

Specifically, Wentworth refused to accept the union's argument that it should be considered as operating similar to a tax-exempt benevolent corporation.

Wentworth noted that claim ignored the fact that unions are organized under a wholly distinct statute and relied on an 1865 Indiana Supreme Court decision that she said was irrelevant to this case.

She also declined the union's invitation to reweigh individual pieces of evidence presented to the Board of Tax Review.

Instead, Wentworth found that the board's factual findings against the union's educational and charitable purposes "are supported by substantial evidence."

The union still can pursue its property tax exemption by appealing the Tax Court ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.

At issue are the 2008 and 2010 property taxes assessed on the Steelworkers' 12,000-square-foot union hall and 22,000-square-foot banquet/meeting center on 20 acres of land on the west side of Ind. 149, just south of U.S. 20, in Portage.

The property and buildings were determined to be worth $3.5 million in 2008 and $5 million in 2010, according to court records.

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