Eagles moving on after tax issue

Published 7:13 am Monday, August 9, 2010

Chef Joe Morse prepares to steam vegetables at the Eagles Club Friday for a steak and shrimp dinner Friday night. Morse was hired as the chef to help promote the Eagles club as a place for meals, weddings and other events. --Jason Schoonover/jason.schoonover@austindailyherald.com

Leaders of Austin’s Eagles Club are confident they’ll soon be able to pay off more than $50,000 that the club owes in unpaid property taxes. Club Secretary Debbie Retterath said the Eagles could have enough money raised by the end of August to pay off the taxes.

“We’re very, very close to having all our property taxes paid off here in the next couple of months — very close,” Retterath said.

The Eagles moved to 107 11th St. NE in 2006, and the club started having difficulties paying its property taxes in 2008.

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“The building is valued very high, so our property taxes almost tripled from our old location,” Retterath said.

Along with yearly property tax totals of more than $25,000, the club was also affected by the struggling economy.

“It was a combination of everything: The new building — property taxes were higher than we anticipated, the economy was not what it should have been at that time,” she said. “Everything just kind of hit at the same time.”

Since then, the club has been working to pay off the back taxes, but fell further behind. As of July 30, the Eagles owed the county $51,232 — $41,188 in taxes, $5,766 in penalties, $4,248 in interest and $30 in fees.

Catching up

The club has been seeking donations from members and revenue from increased membership to pay off the property taxes. On Aug. 21, the Eagles will host Summer Bash, which will include a raffle that Retterath said could raise the remaining funds needed to take care of the club’s unpaid taxes.

“We just need people’s help right now to donate some funds if they can to help us get out of this property tax issue,” Retterath said.

The event will start at 2 p.m. with a car show, and the afternoon of events will also include food, music and a street dance.

Even some Eagles volunteers have been pitching in to the cause; some who help serve and cook meals have been donating their tips .

Along with donations, the club is looking to attract more large events like weddings and meetings. The club recently hired Joe Morse as head chef to make that possible.

While the Eagles has been a wedding and event hub for some time, Retterath said, hosting such events will be an increased focus as the club moves forward.

In the past, Eagles volunteers would handle cooking duties, but Retterath said the consistency varied. Now the Eagles will have new dishes available for events, and Morse has been adding new items to the menu.

After Labor Day, the club will begin serving lunches on Thursdays. On Thursday nights, the club hosts bingo nigh and on Wednesdays they serve hamburgers. The club has been hosting meals on Friday nights.

Moving forward

The club has made adjustments to its finances and to the way the business operates so that tax debt will not be a problem in the future.

“Once we get caught up here in 2010, we believe 2011 will not see a repeat of this at all,” Retterath said.

Retterath noted that the club has never missed other payments.

“We have not ever been behind on anything — ever — except this property tax issue,” Retterath said.

Along with trying to attract new membership, Eagles’ leaders are trying to spread the message that the club is open to children; parents and grandparents can bring their children and grandchildren there for meals.

Despite the recent debt, Retterath said, the Eagles will continue contributing to sports teams, clubs and other organizations for years to come.

“Our primary function has been to give back to the community we’re in, and we’ve continued to do that for many, many years,” Retterath said.

Giving, however, is not always easy because gambling earnings at the club are down due to a number of economic factors.

However, the club’s charitable donations may soon benefit the club through tax breaks. The Eagles has been meeting with the county board to see if the club qualifies for favorable tax status.

Once the Eagles is caught up on property taxes, Retterath is confident the club will remain a staple in the Austin community.

“We intend to continue to be a presence like we have been for the last 100 (years),” Retterath said.