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In re Appeal of Jubilee Ministries International

July 16, 2010

IN RE: APPEAL OF JUBILEE MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL
APPEAL OF LAWRENCE COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Brobson

Argued: April 20, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Appellant Lawrence County Board of Assessment Appeals (the Board) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County (trial court), dated August 31, 2009. The Board granted the tax assessment appeal of Jubilee Ministries International (Jubilee Ministries) for certain properties (Properties), effective the date of the Board's decision. Jubilee Ministries appealed to the trial court, challenging the effective date of tax exempt status. The trial court sustained the appeal and determined the effective date of the tax exempt status to be March 19, 2008, the date that Jubilee Ministries acquired the Properties and began using them for church-related purposes. We now affirm.

The facts of this case are undisputed and are set forth in a joint stipulation of counsel. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 4-10.) On March 19, 2008, Jubilee Ministries, a church organization,*fn1 purchased the Properties*fn2 in Lawrence County. Since acquisition of the Properties, Jubilee Ministries has used the Properties for church-related activities and activities necessary for the operation of a church as a place of worship. Prior to Jubilee Ministries' acquisition of the Properties, from January 1, 2008, to March 19, 2008, the Properties were owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh but were not being used for church-related purposes and were subject to real estate tax.

The Board requires that all applications for exemption be made before September 1 of each year, consistent with Pennsylvania law, with hearings before the Board being held no sooner than October 1.

On July 25, 2008, Jubilee Ministries filed with the Board an application for exemption from real property tax relative to the Properties.*fn3 A hearing was conducted on October 1, 2008. On October 3, 2008, the Board issued individual decisions granting tax exempt status to each of the Properties "from this point forward." (R.R. at 16a-20a.)

Jubilee Ministries appealed to the trial court, challenging the effective date of the tax exempt status. Counsel briefed the matter and filed a joint stipulation of facts pursuant to an order of the trial court. Thereafter, the trial court denied the appeal by order dated April 24, 2009. Jubilee Ministries sought reconsideration, and the trial court granted reconsideration.*fn4 Following argument, the trial court granted the appeal by order and opinion dated August 31, 2009, thereby establishing the effective date of the tax exemption to be March 19, 2008 (the date Jubilee Ministries acquired the Properties). The Board then appealed to this Court.

On appeal,*fn5 the Board argues that the trial court erred when it interpreted Section 701 of the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law,*fn6 to require the Board to establish an effective date for tax exempt status earlier than the date of the Board's decision.

Lawrence County is a fifth class county, and its assessment of real property taxes is governed by the General County Assessment Law and the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law, both of which were amended in 1978. Before the amendments to the General County Assessment Law and the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law, case law developed what was known and employed as the Tax Assessment Day Rule, which essentially provided that the tax status of a property becomes fixed on the day of the assessment and for an entire year. W.G. Halkett Co. v. City of Philadelphia, 175 A. 299 (Pa. Super. 1934). Under the rule, if the property is taxable on the date of assessment, the tax for the entire year must be paid even if the property becomes tax-exempt during the year. Id. at 299. Likewise, property that is tax-exempt at the beginning of the year does not become taxable if it becomes non-exempt during the same tax year. Appeal of Title Services, Inc., 433 Pa. 535, 252 A.2d 585 (1969).

The Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law was amended in 1978, to include, in part, Section 701. Section 701(a.1), 72 P.S. § 5453.701(a.1), provides for additions and revisions to the tax assessment roll as follows:

The board is authorized to make additions and revisions to the assessment roll of persons and property subject to local taxation at any time in the year, so long as the notice provisions of this section are complied with. All additions and revisions shall be a supplement to the assessment roll for levy and collection of taxes for the tax year for which the assessment roll was originally prepared, in addition to being added to the assessment roll for the following calendar or fiscal tax years.*fn7

Section 701(b) of the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.701(b), provides an avenue for relief for a person aggrieved by a tax assessment as follows:

Any person aggrieved by any assessment whether or not the value thereof shall have been changed since the preceding annual assessment, or any taxing district having an interest therein, may appeal to the board for ...


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