Hames closed briefly after Sitka voters rejected a proposal to buy it. The building re-opened a short time later when the Sitka Fine Arts Camp acquired the property. With the help of volunteer labor, it's now a non-profit community fitness center. (Photo provided.)

The Hames Athletic and Wellness Center and Youth Advocates of Sitka received property tax exemptions last night.

Hames and YAS both operate on the Sheldon Jackson campus. They asked to be exempted from paying property taxes under the city’s “community purpose exemption.”

The rule is for organizations that benefit a significant portion of the public and qualify for federal tax exemptions granted to nonprofits.

YAS owns the two-story Armstrong Building on the campus and the lot it sits on. Together, they’re valued at more than $650,000. Hames operates under Alaska Arts Southeast, the nonprofit that runs the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Its building and land are valued at nearly $2.3 million.

Lolly Miller told the Assembly that Hames benefits more than just its regular, adult members.

Miller is the director of the Sheldon Jackson Child Care Center, which sits across the parking lot from Hames. She says the gym keeps her kids and her teachers happy.

“When we say we’re going to the gym, our kids are screaming before they get there,” Miller said. “I really would hope that you’d support their tax exemptions. They do significantly impact the community.”

Mayor Cheryl Westover cited the effort both organizations have put into restoring their properties, and praised them as models for other communities. And she said while she would support these particular exemptions, the issue of granting them in general should perhaps go before voters.

She says in these two cases, the exemption means the city will have to cover the cost of the taxes it won’t receive.

“This is growing as well as a lot of our other bills, and so at some point nonprofits are going to have a lot more property than the rest of the people in the community,” Westover said. “That scares me a little bit, down the road, especially at budget time when we’re running out of money.”

The exemptions for both Hames and YAS were approved unanimously. Roger Schmidt, executive director of the Alaska Arts Southeast, says the larger campus was already granted a property tax exemption for educational purposes.