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Abunda Life Church of Body, Mind & Spirit v. City of Asbury Park

A-1930-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; ASSESSMENTS; EXEMPTIONS—Tax exemption statutes are strictly construed and the burden of proving entitlement to an exemption is on the party seeking it.

A church appealed from a tax court judgment dismissing its complaint that it had been improperly denied a local property tax exemption. The denial was based upon a finding that the property was not actually exclusively used for religious purposes, that the taxpayer had failed to demonstrate it operated on a non-profit basis, and that the use of the property violated the municipal zoning ordinance. The Appellate Division did not reach the question of whether the property violated any zoning laws but affirmed the Tax Court’s denial from the exemption. Tax exemption statutes are strictly construed and the burden of proving entitlement to an exemption is on the party seeking it. To obtain a property tax exemption, the applicant must be organized exclusively for an exempt purpose; the property must be actually and exclusively used for the exempt purpose; and, the applicant must not operate or use its property for profit. The taxpayer’s organizational purposes were not challenged. However, the record was replete with examples of commercial activities on the property, “none of which can be legitimately construed as religious in nature or incidental to religious activities.” The applicant’s financial records were “essentially meaningless in terms of indicating whether [it was] operating on a nonprofit basis or not. ” The missing proofs included “a general ledger for receipts, a daily cash receipts journal, donor records, and inventory data. In the words of the Appellate Division, “[c]learly plaintiff failed in its burden of proof to establish the asserted right to exemption.”


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