The Moscow Elks Lodge is seeking a partial exemption from local property taxes on grounds that it provides a gathering place for residents that takes pressure off public facilities.

But Latah County Assessor Lois Griswold maintains fraternal organizations are competing with private businesses and should be taxed just as they are.The Elks agree that the portion of their lodge rented to Galloway's, a tavern and dance floor open to the public, should be liable for property taxes.

But the lodge's second floor, including a large banquet room, should be removed from the tax rolls since that facility eases demand on county facilities like schools and fairgrounds.

Although the second floor of the lodge is occasionally rented, attorney John Walker said the organization makes no profit from those transactions, using the money to defray expenses like maintenance and insurance. The Elks have been siphoning money from investments for several years to keep up the lodge, Walker said.

If the lodge closed, he argued that groups looking for space to hold gatherings would have to turn to public facilities. The tax break is justified, Walker contended, because the lodge, as a charity, is financing an alternative to public facilities.

But Griswold pointed out that the lodge is used three days each week by commercial aerobics classes. An exemption of 45 percent of the land and 5,000 square feet of the lodge would cut the property tax bill, based on the 1987 levy, from $3,136 to $2,125.

The assessor is already battling the Moose Lodge and its request for a full exemption from property taxes that would total $2,182, based on the 1987 levy.