Appeals from order of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, July T., 1961, No. 962, and April T., 1962, No. 2269, in re appeal of County of Allegheny from final assessment of Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review of Allegheny County.
Bresci R. P. Leonard, with him Royston, Robb, Leonard, Edgecombe, Miller & Shorall, for appellants.
Leonard Boreman, with him Jerome M. Libenson, and Baskin, Boreman, Sachs & Craig, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Cohen and Mr. Justice Roberts dissent only with respect to that part of the decision declaring the hotel to be tax exempt.
The question posed by these appeals is the taxability of certain portions of the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. Specifically involved are: (1) a hotel containing sixty-two rooms and three dormitories; (2) a restaurant, known as "The Fountain Room"; (3) a drugstore; and, (4) a newsstand. These facilities are all located in the airport terminal building. The airport is owned and controlled by the County of Allegheny, and the facilities involved are operated by concessionaires who by the terms of their concession agreements
are liable to the county for the payment of all real estate taxes due and payable thereon.
The Board of Property Assessment, Appeals, and Review of Allegheny County in fixing assessments for the triennial, 1958-1960, intertriennial of 1960, and for the triennial 1961-1963, ruled that the particular facilities were subject to assessment and taxation.*fn1 The county filed appeals in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County and the concessionaires, the Township of Moon (wherein the airport is located) and the Moon Schools Union School District, were permitted to intervene. After hearing, wherein testimony was introduced by the concessionaires only,*fn2 the court below entered extensive findings of fact and concluded therefrom that the hotel, restaurant, newsstand, and that portion of the drugstore utilized for the sale of food were tax exempt. These appeals followed. The appellants, township and school district, contend that the court erred in declaring any of the facilities tax exempt. The appellant, Thrift Drug Company, maintains the entire drugstore premises should have been placed in the tax free status.
The pertinent law was explicated in Moon Township Appeal, 387 Pa. 144 at 148-149, wherein Mr. Chief
Justice Stern, speaking for the Court, stated: "The legal principles applicable to the situation are entirely clear. Article IX, Section 1, of the Constitution permits the General Assembly to exempt from taxation public property used for public purposes. Undoubtedly the portions of the Airport employed in its actual operation -- the landing fields, runways, ramps, hangars, ticket offices, waiting rooms for passengers, management offices, control tower, repair shops and the like -- represent a public use which properly exempts them from taxation; this is conceded by all the parties. There is likewise no question but that property the use of which is reasonably necessary for the efficient operation of the Airport, even though not indispensable or essential thereto, is also entitled to exemption. Nor can such property be denied exemption merely because it is rented out by the Airport and thereby yields a return which serves to reduce expenses, because, where the primary and principal use to which property is put is public, the mere fact that an income is incidentally derived from it does not affect its character as property devoted to a public use: [Citations]. On the other hand, however, there is equally no doubt but that property, even though owned by a body ordinarily tax exempt, is taxable if used by it for commercial purposes, or if rented to a lessee for a purely business enterprise and not a public use; this is true even though the rentals or other proceeds from the property are devoted to the tax exempt activities of the lessor: [Citations]." (Original emphasis.)
While the law is clear, its application to the facts is difficult. The line of demarcation between what is "reasonably necessary for the efficient operation of the Airport" and that which serves only the convenience of the traveling public is not easily fixed. However, after studying the record and the findings of fact of the court ...