The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court late last week affirmed Oorah’s standing as a charitable organization and ruled the religious charity is exempt from paying taxes to the town of Jefferson.
The court’s ruling says both that Oorah is a legitimate non-profit organization, as recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, and that the property in the town of Jefferson is used for charitable purposes, “among other things, operating a summer camp to provide religious, educational, social and moral enrichment and improvement.”
The organization, which operates summer camps for Jewish children and holds religious retreats on properties in Gilboa and the disputed parcels in Jefferson, filed suit in July 2012 asking the state Supreme Court to annul and vacate the town’s decision to reject property tax exemptions.
Oohrah said in a news release that the case revealed that the town under then-Supervisor Dan Singletary had illegally denied Oorah its religious rights.
“We were confident in our decision to fight this injustice to the very end,” said Avraham Krawiec, director of a camp run by Oorah. “Despite the years of unbelievable mistreatment we faced from the town leadership, this was a mission we accepted for the sake of the children who enjoy our camp each year.”
Oorah Inc., which purchased the former Scotch Valley ski resort and Deer Run condominium complex back in 2009, filed papers with the town seeking to be declared wholly exempt from property taxes due to its nonprofit status.
Since Oorah filed suit, it has not paid any taxes to the town.
Rivka Kirwan, a spokeswoman for the organization, said that amounts to roughly $545,000 in unpaid taxes.
The property consists of three parcels totaling more than 414 acres off state Route 10 and Scotch Valley Road.
In Gilboa, Oorah’s property consists of roughly 117 acres off South Gilboa Road. It was deemed nontaxable by the town of Gilboa earlier this year in response to applications filed at the same time as those in Jefferson.
Jefferson Town Supervisor Sean Jordan said he will consult with the town’s attorneys before moving forward.
Jordan, who took office in January 2014, said the situation has been mishandled from the beginning.
“I would have liked the town and Oorah to reach a middle ground,” he said. “Maybe if they could have paid taxes on some of the land that would have been a better solution.”
The statutory law that the court’s ruling is based on states that “a property owner seeking a real property tax exemption which demonstrates that it is a not-for-profit entity whose tax-exempt status has been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service and whose property is used solely for [charitable] purposes has made a presumptive showing of entitlement to [the] exemption.”
In the news release, Oorah claims that the town was trying to extract “millions of dollars” from its charity beneficiaries.
“The town of Jefferson was illegally trying to impair the charitable mission of Oorah in developing the property,” said Oorah’s attorney, John Privitera. “This landmark decision affirms the values we’ve chosen as a society not to take donated dollars from a charity in the form of property taxes.”