Sometimes it pays to do your homework.
Campbell Gardett, commander of the Mackay American Legion post, did his and learned Idaho counties can impose a nominal property tax to maintain and support veterans’ halls and memorials. He notified his counterparts in the Challis American Legion Philip Kirk Post 109, and Legionnaires from both towns went to the Custer County Commission April 30. They asked commissioners to levy a tax to generate $10,000 a year split equally to support the two Legion halls in Custer County. Gardett figures the $5,000 Mackay would get would be enough to meet the Mackay hall’s operating and maintenance expenses for half a year.
Gardett and Mackay Legionnaires David Scroggins and Richard Hanni, Challis Legionnaires Tom Pettit and Ike Funkhouser were joined by Robert Skinner, past commander of the Idaho American Legion and current national executive committee member, when they met with commissioners. The three commissioners expressed enthusiastic support.
State law allows commissioners to levy an annual tax not to exceed 0.01 percent of the county’s market value to help maintain and repair military memorials.
The halls are physical reminders of the sacrifice veterans made serving their country, Gardett said, and help boost patriotism.
“I thank Campbell for researching this,” Pettit said. “We had no idea this funding was available.”
In addition to his current job as an American Legion national committeeman, Skinner is chairman of the group managing the fund set up for Bonneville County veterans’ memorials.
“I report to the county commissioners the number of people who meet in our halls,” Skinner said, and “account for all money spent.” All funds stay within the particular community and Legion post, he said. The money allows veterans halls in Bonneville County to stay open, Skinner said. The halls are particularly important in small communities such as Swan Valley, where the Legion Hall is the only building large enough to host town meetings and public functions.
Custer County Clerk Lura Baker said she needs to know maintenance and operational costs for the two halls so she and her staff can determine a proposed levy amount. County commissioners, not voters, have the authority to levy the tax.
“Both our communities are small enough that I hope (residents) have respect for the needs of veterans and we can get you the money needed” without opposition, Commissioner Wayne Butts said. “As your commissioner, I’d be damn proud to do all we can” to support the Legion halls.
Butts asked if the Clayton American Legion Hall still operates, worrying that he didn’t want to “have Clayton vets left out in the cold.”
Clayton Legionnaires dissolved their group, Funkhouser said, and transferred their memberships to the Challis post. The state pulled their charter and ownership of the hall reverted to the community.
Mackay and Arco Legionnaires renamed their hall last year to recognize Mackay World War I veteran Joe Nowacki and rededicated it as a community center. It’s always been open to the public, but under the new name — Joe Nowacki Memorial Hall and Community Center — people perhaps feel more comfortable using it for other functions, Gardett said.
The Challis hall commemorates Philip Kirk, the first Custer County serviceman to die in action during World War I.