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Camp Hachshara Moshava of New York v. Wayne County Board For the Assessment and Revision of Taxes

May 23, 2012

CAMP HACHSHARA MOSHAVA OF NEW YORK, APPELLANT
v.
WAYNE COUNTY BOARD FOR THE ASSESSMENT AND REVISION OF TAXES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patricia A. McCULLOUGH, Judge

Argued: December 13, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE McCULLOUGH

Camp Hachshara Moshava of New York (Camp Moshava) appeals the May 5, 2011, decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County (trial court) affirming a decision of the Wayne County*fn1 Board for the Assessment and Revision of Taxes (Board) to deny Camp Moshava's application for exemption from real estate tax. We affirm.

The relevant facts of this appeal are summarized as follows. On August 31, 2009, Camp Moshava applied to the Board for exemption from real estate tax. Camp Moshava is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in New York that the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has determined is eligible for a charitable exemption from the sales and use tax under section 204(10) of the Tax Reform Code of 1971.*fn2 (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 199a.) Camp Moshava's certificate of incorporation states that its primary charitable mission is "to provide a camp for young people with a program designed to benefit them morally and physically and to do all things necessary or incidental thereto." (R.R. at 124.)

To that end, Camp Moshava conducts summer camps from mid-May to mid-September each year. (Finding of Fact No. 6.) The camp consists of seven synagogues, seventy bunk houses or dorms, a dining hall, family and living areas, two libraries, walking trails, and a camp-out area. (Finding of Fact No. 10.) All activities at the camp are tied to a religious and/or educational theme related to Orthodox Judaism and Zionism. (Finding of Fact No. 7.) Campers range in age from approximately 8 to 14 years old, grades 3-9, and each session consists of about 650 campers and 400-450 staff. (Findings of Fact Nos. 8, 9.) As part of its activities, Camp Moshava operates a special needs program at a discounted rate for child campers and provides vocational training for special needs staff aged 18 to 35 years old. (Finding of Fact No. 13.) While tuition is charged for the sessions, the trial court found that the tuition was described as approximately $1,000 less than similarly situated camps. (Finding of Fact No. 11.) Scholarships based on financial need are given to about 100-150 campers each year, but no evidence regarding the requirements or calculations for qualification for the scholarships was presented. (Finding of Fact No. 12.) Camp Moshava donates surplus clothing to the Salvation Army and surplus food to a co-op, although no specified dollar amount for these donations was presented. (Finding of Fact No. 15.)

Camp Moshava provides extensive assistance to local volunteer ambulance and firefighting efforts. (Findings of Fact Nos. 16 and 17.) Specifically, Camp Moshava allows an ambulance to be stored on its premises and owns its own fire truck, which is available for use by firefighters in the community. (Finding of Fact No. 16.) Camp Moshava also provides its facilities to the local volunteer firefighting company and other firefighting companies for the purpose of staging training exercises. (Finding of Fact No. 17.)

Although the Board denied the property tax exemption to six of Camp Moshava's parcels, the Board found that two of the parcels, comprising five acres of land and two buildings used for prayer and religious teaching, were exempt.*fn3

(Finding of Fact, No. 4.) On appeal, the trial court determined that Camp Moshava does not relieve the government of some of its burden and hence is not an institution of purely public charity within the meaning of article 8, section 2(a)(v) of the Pennsylvania Constitution.*fn4 (Trial court op. at 8, 9.) The trial court reasoned that Camp Moshava does not relieve the government of some of its burden because the local firefighting and ambulance service was entirely voluntary, without government involvement or obligation, and the camp's charitable donations are not sufficient to constitute a service to the public. (Id. at 8.) The trial court also rejected Camp Moshava's claim that its property was exempt because two comparable properties in Wayne County are exempt. (Id. at 8-9.) Therefore, the trial court affirmed the Board's determination that the other six parcels were subject to the real estate tax. (Id. at 9-10.)

On appeal to this Court,*fn5 Camp Moshava claims that the trial court erred in determining that it is not an institution of purely public charity because it does not relieve the government of some of its burden and that the trial court abused its discretion by inconsistently applying the charitable exemption in violation of article 8, section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution*fn6 and section 2 of the Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act (Act 55).*fn7

An institution seeking a real estate tax exemption bears a heavy burden of establishing its entitlement to such an exemption. Church of the Overcomer, 18

A.3d at 391. A property owner's entitlement to a tax exemption is a mixed question of law and fact, and this Court will not disturb the trial court's decision absent an abuse of discretion or lack of supporting evidence. Id. at 388-89 n.1.

Because the Pennsylvania Constitution does not provide a definition for "institution of purely public charity," our Supreme Court in Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 507 Pa. 1, 487 A.2d 1306 (1985), developed what is generally known as the HUP test to be used to determine whether an entity is an institution of purely public charity. Under the HUP test, an entity qualifies as an institution of purely public charity if it does each of the following:

(a) Advances a charitable purpose;

(b) Donates or renders gratuitously a substantial portion of its services;

(c) Benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity;

(d) Relieves the government of some of its burden; and

(e) Operates entirely free from private profit motive.

Hospital Utilization Project, 507 Pa. 1, 22, 487 A.2d 1306, 1317 ...


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