Board of Assessor of Bridgewater vs. Bridgewater State University Foundation, No. 10-P-593, June 7, 2011, Ruling issued by Margaret L. Cross-Beliveau, Esq., LL.M.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court slip opinion was issued today in the Board of Assessor of Bridgewater vs. Bridgewater State University Foundation overturning the Appellate Tax Board’s decision to grant a tax exemption. The Appellate Tax Board concluded that the Bridgewater State University Foundation (foundation) was entitled to the exemption because the foundation allowed the Bridgewater State University (university) to use and occupy the property in accordance with the foundation’s charitable purposes which constituted occupancy of the property by the foundation within the meaning of the statute.
G.L. c. 59, § 5, Third provides an exemption from property taxation as follows:
“Personal property of a charitable organization, which term, as used in this clause, shall mean (1) a literary, benevolent, charitable or scientific institution or temperance society incorporated in the commonwealth, and (2) a trust for literary, benevolent, charitable, scientific or temperance purposes if it is established by a declaration of trust executed in the commonwealth or all its trustees are appointed by a court or courts in the commonwealth and if its principal literary, benevolent, charitable, scientific or temperance purposes are solely carried out within the commonwealth or its literary, benevolent, charitable, scientific or temperance purposes are principally and usually carried out within the commonwealth; and real estate owned by or held in trust for a charitable organization and occupied by it or its officers for the purposes for which it is organized or by another charitable organization or organizations or its or their officers for the purposes of such other charitable organization or organizations; and real estate purchased by a charitable organization with the purpose of removal thereto, until such removal, but not for more than two years after such purchase….” (emphasis added)
The court has concluded based on the statute that foundation itself had to physically occupy the property to qualify for the exclusion. According to the decision, the court recognized that its conclusion “has the effect of subjecting to taxation properties that would be exempt if occupied by the charitable organization that owns them, or if owned by the state university that occupies them. The result is dictated by the terms of the statutory exemption; to the extent that it may appear either counterintuitive or (as the foundation argues) contrary to the intent of the Legislature, it is for the Legislature to address by means of a statutory amendment.”
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