Ongoing building improvements shouldn’t strip a religious organization of its tax-exempt status, an attorney said Tuesday.
But construction at the former Scotch Valley ski resort that now serves as a children’s camp led to a court decision doing just that.
New Jersey-based Oorah Inc., a Jewish organization working to bring Jewish children closer to their faith, is appealing a decision rendered Jan. 31 that eliminates a tax exemption on the biggest two of three parcels that make up Oorah’s BoyZone summer camp in the Schoharie County town of Jefferson.
Oorah in 2012 was relieved of property taxes on about 117 acres where it operates the GirlZone camp in the town of Gilboa, but officials in the town of Jefferson won’t have it. State Supreme Court Justice Eugene P. Devine ruled on Jan. 28 that Oorah is entitled to a tax exemption for being an organization dedicated to religious, charitable or educational purposes — but only on one of three of its parcels in Jefferson.
The exempt parcel consists of a small home on about 0.6 acres of land valued at $47,550. But, according to the ruling, the other two parcels, which make up about $4,992,350 in value, are not exempt.
Oorah is working on the gymnasium at the 403-acre main camp at 146 Scotch Valley Drive, valued at $3.87 million.
Town officials won’t provide a certificate of occupancy and contend the lack of a certificate is a “valid basis for denying an application for tax exemption,” and Devine agrees.
The other parcel, a four-acre plot with 45 condominium units valued at $1.1 million, never got a certificate because town officials say they didn’t receive stamped engineer drawings for a new deck.
And, they contend, there was no building permit issued for a shed that’s being turned into a bathhouse, and it needs an electrical inspection.
Devine ruled that the town’s tax-exemption denial for this parcel is also valid — despite ruling last year that the same condominium parcel was indeed tax-exempt.
“Although the prior, related order of this Court indicated that Parcel 2 was entitled to an exemption, the record reveals that petitioner continues to engage in a course of noncompliance with local and state building codes and still operates its camp without the necessary certificates,” Devine wrote.
Oorah’s attorney, John J. Privatera of Albany, said he believes it’s the first time construction in progress has rendered a tax-exempt property non-exempt. He likened the ruling to pulling tax-exempt status from a church for building a new rectory or from a Boy Scout camp for adding a mess hall.
Oorah spokeswoman Wendy Kirwan, in an email Tuesday, said the organization is installing a sprinkler system in the gymnasium and expects to receive proper occupancy certificates shortly.
“There can be no doubt that, even applying the Court’s incorrect reasoning, the camp will be exempt from taxation when construction is complete,” Kirwan said.