OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A central Nebraska tourist attraction that celebrates the state's pioneer roots will be able to keep tax exemptions for its adjacent motel and campground facilities, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed a decision in 2011 by the Nebraska Tax Equalization and Review Commission, also known as TERC, that said Pioneer Village Museum's motel and campgrounds in Minden should not get the same property tax exemptions as the museum.
Pioneer Village Museum touts itself as having the world's largest private collection of Americana, with approximately 50,000 exhibits in 28 buildings on 20 acres of land.
The commission's reasoning for denying the exemption was that, unlike the museum, the motel and campgrounds are not used for educational purposes and therefore aren't eligible for tax exemptions.
But the state's high court said that the museum's collection is so extensive that it takes more than a day to see, making the motel and campgrounds necessary to accomplish the educational purposes of the museum. And that is enough to grant the facilities tax-exempt status, the high court said.
Dan Aschwege, the attorney for the museum's foundation, said Friday's opinion was welcomed news for the museum and the small town of Minden's economy.
"If the campground and motel had lost the tax exemption ... it would have been devastating," Aschwege said, adding that the tax exemptions amounted to between $25,000 and $30,000 a year. "If this decision had been otherwise, the taxes would have accrued for 2011, 2012 and 2013, so it easily would have been a six-figure tax bill that the foundation would have had to pay."
Harold G. Warp of Chicago, the son of the museum's late founder and president of the museum's foundation board, said Friday he is thrilled with the decision, noting that like many other museums around the country, Pioneer Village has struggled in recent years.
"A great emotional burden is off of my back because of this decision today," Warp said. "It's been a pretty long struggle to fight the tax assessor. I hope this is an indication that those struggles are behind us."
State Tax Commissioner Kimberly Conroy said Friday that her office appreciates the ruling.
"It helps gives us necessary guidance in situations like these," she said.