Oorah, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that runs two summer camps for Jewish children in Schoharie County, filed a lawsuit this week against the town of Jefferson, where Oorah's Boy Zone camp is located.
In the lawsuit, filed in Schoharie County court on Thursday, Oorah claims that the town and its building inspector, Keith Brooks, are delaying construction and deliberately withholding certificates of occupancy for the camp's new buildings. The camp claims that the town is seeking to obstruct the building project in order to keep Oorah from being granted full property tax exemption on the camp property.
Oorah has asked the court to force the town of Jefferson to "approve construction plans, inspect construction, and issue certificates of occupancy" for their new gymnasium and other buildings. If the town approval is not granted, the camp will not be able to legally use the new buildings.
The current dispute is part of a larger battle between Oorah and the town of Jefferson over the camp's tax-exempt status. As a religious organization, Oorah is exempt from federal taxes, but the tax-exempt status of the camp itself is in dispute.
In 2012, three years after purchasing the former Scotch Valley ski resort to build Boy Zone, Oorah sought a local property tax exemption for the camp property, arguing that the camp was being used for charitable purposes. The town challenged Oorah's property tax exemption, and the issue has been working its way through the court system ever since. The camp is the town's single largest private taxpayer, and if Jefferson ultimately loses the case, it will also lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tax revenue.
In February, the town won a partial victory, when a state Supreme Court judge in Schoharie County ruled that only a small portion of the camp could be considered tax-exempt.
In his ruling, Judge Eugene Devine ruled that two large parcels of land on the camp could not be considered tax-exempt because they contained buildings under construction that did not yet have certificates of occupancy and certificates of compliance issued by the town, the Mountain Eagle reported. Oorah has appealed the decision.
Now, Oorah is claiming that the town is deliberately withholding those certificates in order to hang on to the property's taxable status. In the lawsuit, Oorah also takes issue with the reasoning behind Judge Devine's February ruling:
...this Court mistakenly denied Petitioner's tax exemptions for two of the three parcels that make up Camp BoyZone because the Building Inspector submitted an affidavit attesting that there are seven (7) structures on Petitioner's parcels without certificates of occupancy -- regardless of the lack of proof that those structures were actually used in violation of local law.
Oorah is seeking to resolve the issue before the camp opens for summer season in July. Acting state Supreme Court Judge Thomas McNamara has ordered both Oorah and town representatives to appear at a "show cause" hearing in Albany on Tuesday, May 22.
Oorah announced the lawsuit in a press release, which was reported by the Schoharie News on Thursday. In the release, camp director Avraham Krawiec wrote that the camp had been "stonewalled and mistreated" by the town and its building inspector.
Town officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Oorah's lawsuit, nor could Schoharie County attorney Michael West. An attorney named as the representative of the town in the lawsuit, Michael Cuevas, said he had not yet been formally retained by the town in the matter.
Below: The full text of Oorah's legal complaint against the town of Jefferson and building inspector Keith Brooks, filed on Thursday, May 15, 2014.