Superior Court Judge Arthur Smith ruled today that the Columbus Medical Center Hospital Authority does not have to pay property taxes on Spring Harbor of Green Island Hills, a retirement community it opened in 2005 on River Road.
Soon after its opening, the city began sending property tax bills to the authority, which in 2007 filed suit to have its tax-exempt status established by the court. The case lingered in court for five years until both sides filed motions for summary judgment in 2012.
Smith handed down his ruling this afternoon in a courtroom that held twice as many lawyers as spectators.
Hospital Authority attorney Andrew Rothschild declined to comment after the ruling, saying he has not yet spoken to his clients about discussing the case with the media.
Attorney for the city, Randy Lomax, could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she was disappointed in the judge’s ruling, and said she and attorneys for the city will talk to the Tax Commissioner Lula Huff and the Boardof Tax Assessors, who are the defendants in the case, about whether to appeal the decision up to the state Supreme Court.
“We will be conferring with the tax commissioner and the board of tax assessors to determine whether they wish to appeal the holding,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson said if there is an appeal, it might involve concerns about a public entity such as the Hospital Authority getting tax exemptions for its property, regardless of its use.
“There does seem to be some concern that simply because the Hospital Authority owns property, even if it’s not being for purposes consistent with their mission, that it should be tax exempt,” Tomlinson said. “Or if it owns property that is being used clearly for profit, that it should then have the benefit of tax exemption.”
The Spring Harbor complex features 160 apartment homes and 36 two- and three-bedroom villas. Residents, who must be at least 62 years old, have access to a theater, a formal dining room, a deli, an exercise facility, an indoor swimming pool, a bank branch, storage units, a beauty salon and a pharmacy/gift shop. The facility has a liquor license so alcoholic beverages may be served.
In 2004, the Hospital Authority issued $74.6 million in tax-exempt bonds to build Spring Harbor on 40 acres near Double Churches Road and Green Island Drive.
Columbus Regional Healthcare System Inc. owns the land on which Spring Harbor was built and leases it to the Hospital Authority. Columbus Regional pays property taxes on the land itself, but the Hospital Authority contends that the “improvements” to the land, the Spring Harbor complex, is not taxable.The city has been sending tax bills to the Hospital Authority since 2006, causing the authority to file its lawsuit in 2007. In all, the city has sent bills totaling more than $7 million, according to city records.