Rotterdam was ordered to refund two years of local taxes paid by the Sons of Italy after a state Supreme Court ruling found the mission of the Gabriele D’Annunzio Lodge 321 is consistent with that of a charitable organization.
Justice Vincent Reilly Jr. ruled the lodge on Hamburg Street should be afforded an exemption under the state’s real property tax law because its mission is charitable in nature.
In his three-page ruling, Reilly acknowledged an exemption had previously been granted by the town assessor and an affidavit submitted by the lodge president detailed the “extensive charitable activities” conducted by members of the organization, none of whom received compensation for their work.
Reilly was not persuaded by the town, which argued the lodge was principally a fraternal organization.
In support of this position, the assessor submitted documents that predated a 2002 amendment to the lodge’s certificate of incorporation highlighting its philanthropic mission and a pair of tax returns that showed charitable contributions on revenues that were many times greater.
“The court finds the proof insufficient to meet [the town’s] burden of proof to establish that [the lodge] is not entitled to the ... exemption or to raise an issue of fact as to [the lodge’s] motion for summary judgement,” Reilly wrote in the decision.
The ruling means the town, Schenectady County and Mohonasen Central School District will need to repay the lodge about $12,000.
Robert Beebe, an attorney who represented the town in the case, declined comment Tuesday.
Tom DeLorenzo, the attorney who represented the lodge, was pleased with the ruling.
He said the town only recently decided to challenge the lodge’s exemption after years of granting it.
“There was nothing there to justify any change,” he said.
Founded in 1915, the lodge was originally established in downtown Schenectady to help Italian immigrants with jobs, housing, medical care and language skills.
Faced with dwindling numbers, the lodge sold its building in the city and moved to the former Heritage Baptist Church on Hamburg Street in Rotterdam in 2007.
The move to the suburbs paid off, and by last year, the organization had roughly tripled in size. Today, the lodge has more than 500 members and is considered among the largest in the state.
When Tropical Storm Irene flooded parts of the Capital Region during the late summer of 2011, the Sons of Italy pitched in by feeding victims and people helping them to recover.
DeLorenzo, who serves as the lodge’s orator, said the volunteer work is common.
“Nobody gets paid,” he said. “We get nothing at all. We’re workers there.”