New York’s innovative group, known as Women In (tax) Assessment (WItA) held its 6th Annual Symposium in August which focused on the RPTL 420-a exemption. The group was extremely fortunate to have panelists that represented both sides of various issues that RPTL 420-a presents, and as an added feature, the Symposium included an informative perspective concerning Illinois’ property tax treatment of wholly exempt organizations.
During a Powerpoint presentation prepared by WItA’s co-founders (Rebecca Speno, Esq. and Erin O’Brien, Esq.), Rev. Viktoria Whittaker, priestess of the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, spoke about the Maetreum’s struggle to obtain the 420-a exemption on their property – a former 12 bedroom inn that was converted into the main place of worship and residence for the sect’s faithful (see, Matter of Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc. v. McCoy). Rev. Whittaker focused on her experiences with the Town of Catskill and the judicial system in relationship to the Maetreum’s quest for the exemption.
In addition, Shannon Jones, Esq., Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Syracuse, provided insight as to the applications received by the City and what factors they consider when reviewing them. Drawing from her recent experience in the Matter of Crouse Heath Sys., Inc. v. City of Syracuse case that she recently argued before New York’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department, Ms. Jones emphasized that there is a rather large “gray area” when it comes to the “exclusive use” requirement of RPTL 420-a.
To conclude the symposium, Nora Doherty, Esq., described the different approach that the State of Illinois takes with respect to properties that may qualify for a complete tax exemption. Specifically, Ms. Doherty identified that a property may still be exempt if: 1) a nonexempt use can be described as “merely incidental;” 2) an “identifiable portion” is used for exempt purposes notwithstanding that a nonexempt use is more than merely incidental, and 3) the owner is not a qualified entity, but the use furthers an exempt purpose.
As usual, regardless of point of view, WItA’s Symposium was a collective gathering of intelligent minds, working cooperatively to bring transparency and effectiveness to a system that, we can all agree, is a work in progress. WItA has grown exponentially over the years, with regular attendance at annual events north of 60 women from across the state and beyond.
Co-Authored by: Erin O’Brien, Esq. and Rebecca Speno, Esq.