Members of the Loyal Order of the Moose are fuming because they still have to pay taxes on the lodge’s property while the mayor helped six other nonprofits get off the hook.
The mayor is now trying to mend fences with the Moose, but they say they’ve been attacked and insulted. Now they’re talking about organizing all of the nonprofits that they believe were treated unfairly by the city this week — and they say that those agencies represent thousands of votes.
The issue began when 12 nonprofits, including the Moose, failed to file their annual paperwork to preserve their tax exemption. The city taxed each agency, handing out bills that some agencies said pushed them to the edge of bankruptcy. The situation was finally resolved this week when state legislators passed a special law restoring their exemptions.
But city officials did not give the state all 12 agency names. Only six nonprofits got the special retroactive exemption.
The Moose, whose members had brought the issue to light when they publicly complained at a City Council meeting, were left off the state list. When city officials were asked to explain how that happened, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said he chose to hand over only the names of agencies that “approached” the city about the issue.
As for the Moose, he said, “They complained to the mayor. I’m not sure they approached the mayor.”
The mayor added that the Moose were “deliberately delinquent” and said nonprofits must file their paperwork on time or pay the consequences.
Ken Montgomery, a representative of Lodge 251’s board, responded, “We are givers, not takers. The Loyal Order of the Moose has donated over $20 million to worthwhile charities, to which the city and the residents of Schenectady greatly benefit.”
He said the mayor was attacking the Moose Lodge.
“We take great offense,” Montgomery said. “We’re a strong body of volunteers and we work hard for this city.”
Mayor Brian U. Stratton insisted Friday that he hadn’t meant to offend the Moose. But, he said, lodge members bought a commercial building and did not pay the taxes owed on it, as well as missing the filing date for a tax exemption the next year.
“There has to be some responsibility on the part of the nonprofits,” he said. “They chose by their own volition not to pay those taxes because they needed the cash flow for other things … I support them as a wonderful, charitable organization but there was a financial obligation attached to the building they chose to move into.”
Stratton also said he wanted the Moose included in the state legislation, although he could not explain how they were left out. State officials said they asked for every agency name but got no response.
“I think it was a rushed process,” Stratton said. “I’m not saying the Moose are more guilty than anyone else.”
Moose members were not appeased. They said they plan to organize all six agencies that were left off the list to make sure they are included in new state legislation.
“We are reaching out to all of them. They represent thousands and thousands of votes in this area,” Montgomery said.
A spokesman for Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, said it’s likely the state Legislature will restore those agencies’ 2008 tax exemptions. But the Legislature can’t act now — the session ended this week. The next regularly scheduled session isn’t until January.
In the legislation passed this week for the other six nonprofits, the city was directed to refund any taxes those agencies had already paid. Those who must wait until next year say it will be a struggle to stay afloat until then. Some have decided to simply not pay the tax.
The Schenectady Civic Players is one of the few that has already paid its taxes but was left off the state legislation. President Thomas Heckert said the all-volunteer theater company was taxed “tens of thousands of dollars” because key leaders left and no one else knew to file the tax exemption paperwork on time.
“We’ll be the first ones to say it was totally our fault,” Heckert said. “It’s a lot of money, but we’ve paid.”
He said the company’s attorney has been discussing the situation with the city since February, but Van Norden said he only heard that the company was involved this month. He said he has passed on the company’s name to the state for future legislation.
Heckert said he doesn’t understand why the company wasn’t included in the first legislation, but he was careful not to criticize the city.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened,” Heckert said. “We are trying to work with the city to rectify that. It is an issue … in these economic times, entertainment dollars are certainly being stretched. We are feeling the crunch. If we would have to continue paying taxes like we did, we would not be able to last much longer.”
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