Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County in case of Lutheran Social Services v. Adams County Board for Assessment and Revision of Taxes, Nos. 136-140 May Term, 1973.
H. Thomas Pyle, with him Pyle and Phillips, for appellant.
Michael J. Brilliant, with him Robert H. Griffith, and Markowitz, Kagen & Griffith, for appellee.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer and Blatt. Judges Kramer and Rogers did not participate. Opinion by Judge Blatt. President Judge Bowman dissents.
[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 582]
Real estate taxes were assessed in 1973 on certain properties owned by the Lutheran Social Services in Straban Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania, and the Adams County Board for Assessment and Revision of Taxes (Board) appeals here from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County which sustained an appeal of the said Lutheran Social Services from the Board's denial of an exemption.
The Lutheran Social Services were incorporated as a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation in 1965 as a result of the merger of the Lutheran Inner Mission and the Lutheran Welfare Service. The merger articles provided that the purposes of the surviving corporation were to provide a spiritual-social ministry and to supplement existing welfare services for older people, families, and children. The membership consists primarily of Lutheran ministers and lay persons living in the area of south-central Pennsylvania.
The Lutheran Social Services operate a Home for the Aged (Home) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, providing nursing services and residential care for individuals over 65 years of age. The real estate assessments at issue here relate to five dwelling houses or cottages constructed on the campus of the Home and used as part of an independent living program which the Home conducts. The sole question here is whether or not these five cottages are devoted to the charitable purposes of the Home and are thereby entitled to share in its tax exemption.
The cottage program here concerned is said to be designed to provide an aging individual, or couple, or group of individuals, with independent living and security in a Christian community where supportive services are available for them. The cottages are, in effect, small dwellings occupied by individuals (cottagers) who have qualified for the program, and for
[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 583]
whom the Home agrees to perform all of the routine maintenance functions necessary to keep the cottage buildings in good repair. All of the normal housekeeping expenses, however, including food and utilities, must be assumed by the cottagers. Upon admission, all cottagers are eligible to participate in all of the normal programs at the Home, and they qualify for the cottage program by signing a residence agreement, by supplying a notarized financial statement, and by paying a substantial admission fee.
The question of entitlement to an exemption is a mixed one of law and fact, City of Harrisburg v. Presbyterian Apartments, Inc., 18 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 428, 337 A.2d 297 (1975), and absent any abuse of discretion or a lack of supporting evidence the decision of the trial judge is binding on this Court. Township of Derry, Dauphin County v. Shwartz, 21 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 587, 346 A.2d 853 (1975). The evidence presented at the hearing in the court below by the Lutheran Social Services consisted of the testimony of its Executive Director and various exhibits, including copies of the cottage residence agreements, and, although there are some inconsistencies in these agreements, the evidence supports the ...