Conservation Nonprofit Faces Big Tax Bill

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May 2, 2011; Source: Watertown Daily Times | In St. Lawrence County, N.Y., a conservation group that owns hundreds of acres of land spread across various towns is almost always denied in its applications for local property tax exemptions. The reasoning, say local tax officials, is that the land is not posted nor is it available for public use. The position of Common Field, the group that owns the land, is that simply protecting the land should qualify it for tax exemption.

Most of Common Fields' land parcels were bought and either donated or sold to the group by Christopher H. Muka, aka “Nature Boy,” and all but one of its 11 parcels in St. Lawrence County have been denied tax exemption resulting in a build up of back taxes that might eventually, but not this year, end up in the property being lost. According to the Daily Times article, precedent for the denials exist in the case of the Ksiaze Chylinski-Polubinski Trust, which sued several towns in St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties in Maryland over its tax-exempt status. The organization made the same claim that simply protecting the land was sufficient to qualify it for a tax exemption, but the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court determined that simply allowing public access was not enough.—Ruth McCambridge