Appeals from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County in the cases of In Re: Appeal of the Eastern District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church, Frederick Mennonite Home, Frederick, Pennsylvania v. Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals, Nos. 78-19472 and 79-04757.
Richard A. Rosenberger, Souder, Rosenberger, Lapp & Bricker, for appellant.
Mark Ryan, with him Michael D. Marino, for appellee, Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals.
David L. Allebach, Jr., Reynier, Crocker, Allebach & Reber, P.C., for appellee, Township of Upper Frederick.
Judges Blatt, Craig and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
In these consolidated cases, the Eastern District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church (appellant) appeals here an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County which dismissed its tax exemption appeal.
The appellant, a non-profit corporation, is the owner of the Frederick Mennonite Home. Among the buildings making up the Home are three cottages, each containing four individual living units designed for the elderly, and it is the status of these cottages which is the subject of dispute. To live in one of these units, the resident must enter into an agreement with the appellant relating to the monetary arrangements, and there are several arrangements available, depending upon whether the resident pays a higher founder's fee initially and a lower monthly charge or a lower founder's fee initially and a higher monthly charge.*fn1 The monthly charges are in addition to a monthly maintenance fee of $175 assessed by the appellant to cover costs for heating, water, sewerage, insurance,
and the like. The residents pay their own electric and telephone bills and for meals and medical services available at the Home.
The agreement provides that, if the resident is financially unable to continue the monthly payments, the appellant will not terminate the agreement, and, because of this clause the appellant argues that the charitable purpose of the Home is clearly shown. The agreement also provides that the appellant reserves the right to terminate the agreement "for any cause which, in the judgment of the Home, shall be good and sufficient," and the common pleas court found that the initial financial requirements include a showing of sufficient ability to pay the initial founder's fee and the monthly charges. The administrator testified that no one had ever been discharged from the Home, but he also testified that no one had ever become financially unable to meet the monthly costs. In fact, the administrator could not give the common pleas court the name of any individual who had been allowed to stay without payment of the fees. Moreover, every resident has been required to submit a physician's certificate stating that he or she is physically and mentally capable of living independently, and satisfactory results must be obtained on laboratory blood, urine, Wasserman, and chest x-ray tests.
The right to a tax exemption in this Commonwealth is governed first by our Constitution and then by our general laws. Pa. Const. art. VIII, ...