Business workshop: Court decrees on tax exemptions

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The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has issued several recent decisions that make it easier for certain organizations to qualify for exemptions from paying real estate taxes.

In one case, the court decided a trial court must review the entirety of an organization's operations -- even those outside the court's jurisdiction -- in deciding whether the organization is exempt from property taxes.

The decision overturns the Lehigh County Board of Assessment Appeals and a lower court, both of which had prohibited a non-profit organization from presenting information about its operations outside of Lehigh County to demonstrate it qualified as a public charity. The Commonwealth Court ordered a new hearing.

In a second case, Schuylkill County sent Norwegian township a notice assessing real estate taxes on a property it claimed was not in public use, despite the fact that there were public benches on it.

The County Board of Assessment Appeals upheld the county, but a trial court reversed.

In agreeing with the lower court, the Commonwealth Court held that although the general Pennsylvania rule is that the taxpayer has the burden of establishing a property is exempt, government-owned property is assumed to be exempt and the burden of proving it is not used for a public purpose falls on the taxing body.

In yet another recent decision, the Commonwealth Court held that a golf course is tax-exempt if it is part of a community that qualifies under the Uniform Planned Community Act.

The Commonwealth Court noted that the deeds of conveyance of each unit owner of the community referenced the community trust agreement, which included restrictions on the use of units and required all owners to pay their share to maintain common facilities.

As such, the trust agreement satisfied the requirements of UPCA, even though the law was passed after the community was built.

In all these cases, the organization seeking tax exemption won.

-- Frank Kosir, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott,

Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at

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