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Letter to the Editor: Clergy Tax Exemptions Cost Us All

A loose application of the law allows some people to not pay taxes, letter writer says.

This letter was submitted to the editor by Cary Brozik of Woodmere.

Under New York State Real Property Law 460, clergy can apply for a $1,500 exemption on his/her private property owned anywhere in the state.

The exemption is applicable to both general town and county taxes as well as school taxes, making its application broader and more generous than that for volunteer firefighters or veterans, neither of which is applicable to school taxes.

The problem with this exemption is that the manner in which it is applied in Nassau County results in exemptions vastly greater than the $1,500 written into the law. As the exemption is applied “against the assessment,” not as a reduction of the tax bill, in jurisdictions where property is assessed at full market value the exemption’s value is $1,500.

But, in Nassau County, a .25 percent equalization rate is applied to the full market value to obtain the “taxable assessment.” This “taxable assessment” is thus lowered to a point that many, maybe most, homes are assessed below $1,500. Applying the $1,500 Clergy/Minister Exemption against these lowered assessments results in little or no school tax due.

The result for Hewlett-Woodmere School District taxpayers is that for the current tax year there are 42 clergy/minister exemptions ranging from $7,272.20 to $14,983.92. The average exemption is $12,153.88. A total of $510,463 in school taxes is thus shifted to other taxpayers in this district. Of the 42 exempted properties, 34 will pay NO school taxes. Other tax payers are paying those taxes.

In addition, $68,989 in general town/county taxes are also exempted. These exempted taxes are also passed on to other taxpayers in our school district, town, and county. The clergy/minister exemption does not prevent a property owner from also having a Basic STAR exemption if they qualify.

The impact of this problem extends to all school districts in the county. There are over 67 such exemptions in neighboring School District 15, and 608 total in the county.

This is more than unfair, it is outrageous, and our political leadership at the town, county, and state levels must stop this unintended, windfall giveaway. There are possible solutions:

  1. Rescind the law.
  2. Clarify wording such that the exemption of $1,500 is to be applied to the final tax bill, not the assessment.
  3. The county must go to full market assessment.

Whatever the solution, a minority of property owners cannot continue to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes year after year. Property owners should pay their property taxes, not other people’s property taxes.

Frank September 05, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Leave the Clergy alone. They do a tremendous amount of good for society every day. Instead of persecuting the clergy, why don't you go after all the deadbeats and scofflaws that steal and squander billions of tax dollars a year on Welfare, Housing, and Medicaid? The "finanical auto-da-fé " should be pooled from these miscreants, not the clergy.
Igwheet September 05, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Clergy tax exemptions are very common -- not just in Nassau County. Are the tax laws concerning these exemptions different elsewhere? If so, then please share that part of the story. The way you frame your position on this issue implies the clergy are somehow to blame.
D Fusco September 05, 2012 at 06:52 PM
So, if I am reading these numbers correctly, properties in the Five Towns school districts have about 16% of the clergy exemptions in Nassau County, although there are about 57 school districts in Nassau County. So, clergy tax exemptions are much more common in the Five Towns than they are in the rest of Nassau. The author may not be questioning the validity of the exemptions, but rather the disproportionate effect on non-clergy property owners in our area. Put another way, there might be a tax break for cattle farmers on the books here, but if it only benefits one property owner, then it doesn't have a huge effect on all of us non-farmers. Such a tax break in the middle of farmland might cause a greater burden on those farmers who don't own cows.
D Fusco September 05, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Not to mention the different application of the exemption in Nassau versus other counties. I believe the opinion letter did point that out. It's not that the tax laws are different elsewhere, it is that this law is applied differently.
Bojames September 05, 2012 at 08:13 PM
No one is being persecuted. There is a flaw in the application of a tax exemption law thus giving a minority of property owners a huge tax break the state never intended. And yes indeed go after the dead beats...got any names?
Bojames September 05, 2012 at 08:19 PM
The "blame " is the misapplication of a STATE wide law as it is applied in Nassau Co.,and the inaction of lawmakers to correct it. The clergy who claim this exemption apparently are not about to suggest it be corrected. Most property owners would be happy to accept a gift of thousands of extra dollars in an exemption. On the other hand all exempted taxes are passed on to you and other tax payers. Write to clergyexemption@g.mail.com with your questions.
Yenta Pishala September 06, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Clergies are fraud. They are the biggest gonifs. Why should they get exemption. Entire political system is corrupt. We have so many layers of govts. fed govt, state govt, city govt. county govt, town govt, village govt, so many layers of rules and regulations, so many layers of bureaucracy, so many layers of taxation and of course so many layers of corruption. We should out sourse the govt and save money and live better and get rid off these corrupt politicians.
Bojames September 06, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Call your County and State reps and tell them what you feel. Write to clergyexemption@gmail.com for more information.
abraham September 06, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Where can you get the specific people getting the exemption?
Bojames September 06, 2012 at 10:39 PM
...write to clergyexemption@gmail.com or write to the County Assessor.
Frank September 07, 2012 at 02:16 PM
@ Bojames: try half of Old Mill Court. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.
Frank November 20, 2012 at 07:03 PM
How do you expect clergy to live in a town that has taxes over $15,000 and they make under $50,000. The basic idea for the exemption is to assist clergy to live in high tax and high property cost areas. Could a priest afford to live in Beverly Hills without breaks? Would it be better for the church to buy the house and no taxes be paid either?

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