Jersey City Tax Assessor Questioning Property Tax Exemptions for Non-Profits

by: Thomas Olson
26 May 2021

The Property Tax Assessor in Jersey City has been attempting to remove various nonprofit organizations’ property tax-exempt status. While some non-profits have been successful in maintaining their property tax-exempt status, several others are still in danger of seeing their property’s tax-exempt status revoked. This could cost nonprofit organizations thousands of dollars a year in property taxes or lengthy legal battles to ensure their property tax-exempt status remains. The financial health of the nonprofit organizations is in jeopardy if their property tax-exempt status is removed and indeed could threaten their very existence.

One of the organizations which has faced possible revocation is WFMU, a non-profit radio station which currently operates out of its facilities in Jersey City. WFMU was founded in 1958 for Upsala College students, which was in East Orange. The station broadcast lectures, classical music, and Lutheran services. WFMU began freeform broadcasting in 1967 by well-known DJ Vince Scelsa. Originally broadcasting in East Orange, the radio station moved to Jersey City after Upsala College closed and is now located on Montgomery Street. WFMU is still broadcasting with approximately 250,000 listeners across the globe.

In order to keep its property tax-exempt status, the tax assessor requested WFMU explain how the radio station provides educational value. As a result, the radio station requested its loyal listeners to provide testimonials regarding the educational value the station provides. The estimated tax burden WFMU faced was approximately $60,000 per year. If the station lost its property tax-exempt status, it may have needed to cease broadcasting. Thanks to the public response after WFMU made its appeal to listeners, the tax assessor has now backed off the inquiry and WFMU will remain tax exempt.

However, there are several other Jersey City non-profits who have not been as lucky as WFMU. Other non-profit organizations have begun reaching out to the public for assistance in their fight to remain property tax-exempt.

Among the organizations now fighting the recission of their property tax-exempt status are the Kennedy Dancers. The Kennedy Dancers are a dance group which features both professional and pre-professional dance groups. The organization also hosts dance groups of different ages and assists in providing free dance classes to groups like senior citizens. In the past 45 years, the group has assisted roughly 4,000 individuals through dance.

In June of 2020, the tax assessor sought to have the property tax-exempt status changed for the property owned by the Kennedy Dancers. Amongst the reasons why the city has argued that the Kennedy Dancers’ property should not be considered property tax-exempt is that they pay their staff for the work they perform, charge admission for people to see their events, and have a live-in caretaker who does not pay rent to live there. If the Kennedy Dancers are not successful in maintaining their property tax-exempt status, then its tax burden would be $20,000 per year. If subjected to this tax burden, the organization is not confident they will be able to maintain their current operations and may be forced to close if they lose their property tax-exempt status.

Aside from WFMU and the Kennedy Dancers, other organizations have had to challenge the Jersey City Tax Assessor’s attempt to remove their property tax-exempt status. Two others are the Ukranian National Home and the Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church. In regard to Christ Our Savior, the tax assessor attempted to assess the pastor’s home adjoining the Church’s grounds. Christ Our Savior was successful in their attempt to maintain their property tax-exempt status; however, it took several months and involved the organization getting an attorney to assist them. The Ukranian National Home has also hired an attorney to help maintain their property tax-exempt status, however the organization has run out of money with their fight still ongoing and is attempting to raise money in order to continue their fight.

One ally of the non-profit organizations has been the Mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop. The Jersey City Tax Assessor is a state position and is not directly associated with the Jersey City government. While Mr. Fulop stated that his office supports the job the Jersey City Tax Assessor is doing as a whole, Mr. Fulop’s office has stated its disagreement with the Tax Assessor’s attempt to remove the property tax-exempt status of the several non-profit organizations. While WFMU and Christ Our Savior were able to maintain their property tax-exempt status, time will tell whether the other organizations such as the Kennedy Dancers will be successful.

To read an article on the possibility of WFMU losing their tax exemption status, please click here.

To read articles on the Jersey City Tax Assessor’s other attempts, please click here and here.

The author acknowledges the assistance of William Olson, a law clerk at McKirdy, Riskin, Olson & DellaPelle, in preparing this article. Mr. Olson is a member of the class of 2021 at Rutgers Law School.