Schoharie, NY- In the culmination of a contentious three-year battle between national nonprofit Oorah and the Town of Jefferson in Schoharie County, New York, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the organization’s charitable standing in a ruling yesterday that firmly established the town did not have jurisdiction to deny or call the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status into question. The court’s ruling forces the town to recognize the charity’s property, a former ski lodge turned children’s camp, used by Oorah in consonance with the organization’s mission, as tax-exempt.
The case revealed that the town had illegally denied Oorah its religious rights under the influence and animosity of former Town Supervisor Dan Singletary.This vindictive abuse of power cost the local taxpayers many thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight a vendetta with little to no chance of victory for the town.
The unanimous Appellate Division’s decisionvindicates Oorah’s persistence in pursuing the case to a victorious conclusion, despite extreme effort on the town’s part to deny the nonprofit its rightful tax exemption. “We were confident in our decision to fight this injustice to the very end,” said Rabbi Avraham Krawiec, director of the Oorah camp, TheZone. “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.”
Statutory law that the court’s ruling is based on unequivocally 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.” The court’s ruling clearly delineates both that Oorah is a legitimate 501(c)3 non-profit organization, as recognized by the IRS, and that the property is used for charitable purposes, “among other things, operating a summer camp ‘to provide religious, educational, social and moral enrichment and improvement,’ … Accordingly, to the extent that Supreme Court determined that certain of the subject properties were not entitled to the exemption,” the decision states, “this was error.”
With no basis for denying Oorah its tax exemption, the town was, in effect, attempting to extract millions of dollars from its charity beneficiaries. “The values that are expressed in the New York State statute which provides for mandatory tax exemptions for organizations like Oorah is based on a legislative finding that charitable children’s camps and similar properties have such a strong community value that we’ve made a social decision to protect them from taxes so they can thrive,” said Oorah’s attorney, John Privitera. “TheTown of Jefferson was illegally trying to impair the charitable mission of Oorah in developing the property.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.”
The mistreatment Oorah faced in Jefferson stands in stark contrast to the fair, non-discriminatory, working relationship the organization enjoys with the neighboring town of Gilboa, where a second tax-exempt camp for children is located. Oorah gives an annual donation to Gilboa in appreciation of the services and amenities the town provides the camp.
“This decision is a victory against municipalities that seek to throttle charities and organizations they don’t like or follow religions they don’t embrace,” said Privitera. “By trying to impose the shackles of taxes upon a charitable organization, the governing body of Jefferson sought to challenge the very validity and values of Oorah and limit them from fulfilling their vision and mission, a freedom explicitly granted them by law.”
The town waged war against Oorah from the day the organization bought the former ski lodge property, beginning with Singletary refusing to process its building permit applications in 2010, despite Oorah’s good faith efforts to comply with all the township’s demands. Singletary was voted out of office in November.