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Amsterdam, NY ,



Buddhist tax dispute with city nearly over

Saturday, November 17, 2012 - Updated: 6:51 PM


Recorder News Staff

A lawsuit is wrapping up between the city of Amsterdam and Guang Huan Mi Zong, Inc., a local Buddhist organization.

According to court documents, Guang Huan sued the city back in March regarding a tax assessment review for two of its properties within city limits: 10 Leonard St. and 17 Liberty St.

The document states that the organization is a nonprofit and is exempt from federal taxation, and explained that the Leonard property was used for religious practice and storage of religious materials while the Liberty property was used as a meditation and confession chapel.

As a result, the document states, the properties are entitled to exemptions from real property taxation and until this year, they were.

But in 2012, the properties' exemptions were revoked and they were added to the tax rolls, the documents says.

The document requested that the properties be reassessed and any costs associated with court fees that the court deemed just be awarded.

According to an early summer document to the Supreme Court of Montgomery County, the city denied that the organization has spent significant time and resources renovating the properties and denied that they were used for religious purposes.

And it requested that the organization's claims that the assessed values of the properties were excessive or unequal be dismissed.

The city's answer claimed that the organization didn't apply for building permits nor submit any plans to the assessors office for modification for an exempt purpose.

The document also says that around the taxable status date, the properties were inspected and "found to be vacant and unused."

City Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said the process is coming to a close, but not quite finished yet.

"The resolution was they would get it back," he said, referring to the tax exempt status, "provided they met certain criteria."

Part of that criteria, DeCusatis said, would include the organization applying for a Special Use Permit or use variance for the Leonard property, if it's required for its use.

That, DeCusatis said, the organization is contemplating.

Guang Huan would also have to get building permits and on or before December, would have to get operable heating, water, electrical and sprinkler systems, if required.

"The idea was to improve the quality of the buildings from the city's perspective."

DeCusatis said the two parties reached a settlement during the summer, but there was dispute over some of the language in the settlement so they worked to iron out the issues.

"There hasn't been tons of activity," he said.

While the criteria and terms have been discussed, the attorney said the settlement stipulation component has been circulated and are just waiting on some signatures.

In an October email to the Recorder, Jennie Wong, the Guang Huan Mi Zong representative, said that the organization should be entitled to tax exempt status.

"It is inappropriate to deprive GHMZ's right that clause 420 granted to it and impose certain conditions asking GMHZ to comply before its land tax exempt status could be restored," Wong wrote in the email.

On top of dealing with legal actions between the city and Guang Huan, the organization has also been involved in a significant amount of property transfers.

According to documents obtained from City Hall, 30 of the 60 properties owned by the organization have not had property taxes paid on them since April and 36 of them have outstanding violations.

Within the past year, the organization transferred more than half of their properties to a corporation called Sunlight Recycling Company, according to information from the Montgomery County Real Property Tax Department.

No contact information was available for the company, and Wong could not be reached for further comment on the matter.


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