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Forest, VA: School serving "most severe types of autism" gets tax exempt status

Aug 31, 2023, Lynchburg, VA News and Advance, Bedford supervisors OK tax-exempt status for autism day school in Forest

The Virginia Institute of Autism in Forest has received tax-exempt status from Bedford County, following unanimous approval from the county’s board of supervisors Monday.

The school at 1116 Elkton Farm Road, near the Kroger shopping center, provides educational services to the community to assist individuals with autism and significant disabilities in order to help them gain skills and be as independent as possible, according to a staff report to the board. The institute also gives consultation and assistance to families, local school divisions and other agencies to assist them in gaining results for children and adults, the report states.

By granting the tax-exempt status, the county no longer brings in $7,675 in annual tax revenue, county documents show. Patrick J. Skelley III, the county’s attorney, said the institute received site approval last year for the private day school use in the Elkton Farm Road facility….

The position of the county attorney and Bedford County Commissioner of the Revenue Office is an organization receiving tax-exempt status must meet a general public need with benefits that can be derived by the community at large and benefits received by county residents are equivalent to or exceed the loss in tax revenue, the staff report states.

Damien Murtagh, director of the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), said it serves children and adults ages 2 to 22 with the most severe types of autism and the organization’s primary mission is to minimize the impact of their disabilities on their families. VIA gives intensive, therapeutic, evidence-based services from an early age that saves costs for taxpaying families, he said.

The school is year-round, and much time is spent teaching students one-on-one in areas of communication, language and dealing with physical aggression, Murtagh said.

“Many of our students are among the most severe end of the spectrum,” Murtagh said. “One of our biggest challenges is actually finding a way to recruit staff who are willing to work for the salaries we are able to pay as a nonprofit in order to meet those needs. We have a wait list that grows pretty regularly. … The harvest is plenty, but the farmers are few.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 36 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism, Murtagh said. VIA in Forest has a number of Bedford County students on the wait list and it serves students as far south as Halifax County and surrounding counties including Nelson, Appomattox and Botetourt, among others, he said. The nonprofit previously has used Hyland Heights Baptist Church in Campbell County and the HumanKind campus in Lynchburg as locations, according to Murtagh.

The Virginia Institute of Autism in Forest is shown.

Justin Faulconer, The News & Advance


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