Tax-exempt status of estate owned by Lincoln’s son still up in the air

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MANCHESTER, Vt. (AP) – Officials who run the estate of President Abraham Lincoln’s late son are still trying to maintain all of its property as tax exempt.

They argue that Hildene operates as a charitable, educational institutional and therefore should not be liable for the statewide property tax. The town of Manchester already has granted it tax-exempt status.

“This land is here for the benefit of the state of Vermont, and to tax us for our trouble is, frankly, an outrage,” said lawyer Seth Bongartz, who is Hildene’s executive director.

Hildene has been working with the state trying to work out a solution and eventually it appealed to the Division of Property Valuation and Review. The state initially said that 50 acres would be exempt but the remainder of the 410-acre property would have to be taxed, said Bill Johnson, head of the division.

A hearing was held March 23 to hear appeals from Hildene. State officials informed Hildene before that session began that they had changed their minds and only about 55 acres would be subject to taxes, Bongartz said. Johnson said the division’s staff had re-examined the case and come to a different conclusion about what parts of the Hildene property were necessary to run the estate has a nonprofit corporation.

As the hearing went on, state officials revised downward the amount of land that should be taxed again. “They said, Well, maybe only 25 or 30 acres should be taxed.’ So they lopped that in half quickly,” he said.

The estate still is not satisfied and will not be until the entire property is exempt. “We will not negotiate,” Bongartz said.

Hildene was the home of Robert Todd Lincoln in the late 19th century and became a nonprofit organization in 1977. Manchester and Manchester Village have recognized it as tax exempt since voters approved that plan in 1992.

Bongartz said estate officials believe they will prevail.

“We’re just waiting for a letter which would give the state’s decision. We expect that will end it,” he said.

A final decision could take as long as six weeks, Johnson said.

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