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BERKS COUNTY BOARD ASSESSMENT AND REVISION TAXES AND OLEY VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT v. BERKS COUNTY CONSERVANCY (11/10/86)

decided: November 10, 1986.

BERKS COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT AND REVISION OF TAXES AND OLEY VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANTS
v.
BERKS COUNTY CONSERVANCY, APPELLEE. BERKS COUNTY CONSERVANCY, APPELLANT V. BERKS COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT AND REVISION OF TAXES AND OLEY VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLEE



Appeals from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County in the case of Berks County Conservancy v. Berks County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes and Oley Valley School District, No. 181 September, 1980, No. 153 November, 1980, No. 334 June, 1981 and No. 290 April, 1982, dated October 10, 1985 and October 18, 1985.

COUNSEL

Gerald P. Sigal, with him, Donald F. Spang, Merkel & Spang, for appellants/appellees, Berks County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes and Oley Valley School District.

Richard E. Fehling, with him, Sidney D. Kline, Jr., Stevens & Lee, and Paul H. Edelman and William W. Runyeon, Edelman, Parish, Orlando & Runyeon, for appellee/appellant, The Berks County Conservancy.

Judges MacPhail and Palladino, and Senior Judge Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 65]

The Berks County Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes (Board) and the Oley Valley School District

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 66]

(jointly, Appellants) have brought an appeal, docketed at No. 3013 C.D. 1985, from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County which granted real estate tax exemptions to certain tracts of land owned by the Berks County Conservancy. The Conservancy has filed a cross-appeal, docketed at No. 3334 C.D. 1985, challenging the common pleas court's ruling that a failure to grant tax exempt status to the subject properties would not violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Pa. Const. art. VIII, § 1. For the reasons which follow, we reverse the grant of tax exempt status and affirm the ruling that no violation of the Uniformity Clause has been established.

At issue in the instant appeal are six tracts of land located in Alsace Township, Berks County which were received by the Conservancy as gifts in six consecutive years from 1976 through 1981.*fn1 Exemption petitions regarding these properties were filed with the Board at various times between August, 1979 and January, 1982. The Board's denials of tax exempt status were appealed to the common pleas court where a consolidated de novo trial was conducted. The common pleas court subsequently filed a detailed adjudication concluding, inter alia, that the Conservancy is a purely public charity and that the subject properties are used for purely public charitable purposes.

Appellants' first contention before this Court relates to the exemption petitions originally filed with the Board. Appellants contend that those petitions were untimely filed with the Board under Section 8(c) of the Act

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 67]

    of June 26, 1931, P.L. 1379, as amended, 72 P.S. § 5349(c) which provides that annual assessment appeals shall be filed on or before the first day of September. We have previously held that this appeal deadline is mandatory. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. v. Board of Assessment Appeals, Westmoreland County, 25 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 194, 360 A.2d 265 (1976). We have also recognized, however, that appeals filed after the September 1 deadline may be considered timely as to the following tax year. Id.; see also ASR Realty Corp. v. Revenue Appeals Board, Northampton County, 90 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 122, 494 A.2d 497 (1985); City of Pittsburgh v. County of Allegheny, 49 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 442, 412 A.2d 655 (1980). In fact, the trial judge acted in accord with this case law when, by supplemental order, he directed that the effective date of the tax exemptions granted "shall be the year following the year in which the applicable petitions for said exemptions were filed." We, accordingly, find no procedural error or jurisdictional defect in the proceedings below.

The remaining issues raised by Appellants relate to the merits of the trial court's decision. We note preliminarily that statutory provisions which exempt property from taxation are to be strictly construed. Greater Erie Economic Development Corp. Appeal, 61 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 144, 433 A.2d 568 (1981). Moreover, the taxpayer bears the burden of establishing its entitlement to exempt status. Council Rock School District v. G.D.L. Plaza Corp., 91 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 176, 496 A.2d 1298 (1985). Our scope of review is to determine whether the trial court's adjudication evidences a lack of supporting evidence or an abuse of discretion. Id.

The Conservancy is a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation with the ...


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