Three city buildings are going back on the tax roll, thanks to a state law that many non-profits complain is excessively onerous.
The law requires every nonprofit to swear, each year, that their property is still used for nonprofit purposes and thus must remain tax-exempt. The goal is to make sure that every tax-exempt property that is sold or otherwise changes use is immediately placed back on the tax roll.
It’s a pain for non-profits, which must file the same paperwork year after year. But every year, the law has turned up at least one taxable property in the city that otherwise would have remained tax-exempt.
This year there were three. Two of them were highly visible and their sale was unlikely to go unnoticed by city officials. But the third nonprofit sale happened so quietly that few in the city seemed to be aware of it.
First sold were the Gillette House and the Millington House, which were owned by the Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
They were sold last fall to private developer Jack McDonald after the chamber finally admitted it could not afford to turn those buildings into a visitors center. The city is now building its own visitors center at Proctors. McDonald plans to renovate the buildings for use as offices and apartments.
Next up was a far less publicized sale. The Mental Health Association of Ulster County closed its Harbour House on Wendell Avenue. The building was sold on Oct. 16, Assistant Comptroller Eric Stoppel said. It was only because Stoppel did not file the nonprofit-status form for the Wendell Avenue address that the city learned that it should start taxing the new owners.
Unfortunately, one genuine nonprofit fell afoul of the rules this year and may also be taxed.
Planned Parenthood did not file its nonprofit status paperwork by Monday’s deadline, according to city records. The agency owns three properties, all of which must by law be taxed since the paperwork wasn’t filed.
But Planned Parenthood has 10 months to resolve the problem. The paperwork that was due Monday is used to set next year’s tax roll. That means the agency won’t be taxed until Jan. 1.
Before then, the agency could ask the state Legislature to retroactively restore its tax exemption. Only the state has that authority.
Several non-profits filed at the very last minute. The Diocese of Albany, which owns the former St. Clare’s Hospital, submitted its form just minutes before the deadline Monday.
Girls Inc. dropped its paperwork in the mail on Friday after Chief Operating Officer Bryan LaVigne realized that it was due a month earlier than he had believed.
“To be honest, I thought it was March 31,” he said.
On Friday he glanced at the form and saw, to his horror, that the deadline was Mar. 1. He filled it out immediately.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton has criticized the process as being excessively onerous, saying that he wants a change in state law so that the city does not have to tax every agency that files late. In 2008, tax bills went out to 13 non-profits because they didn’t file.
Assessor Pat Mastro said the current state law gives him no choice in the matter.
Eventually, all 13 non-profits had their tax-exemption restored through 13 separate acts of the state Legislature, a process that took many months.