All Potsdam taxpayers need to pay fair share
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 11:41 am

To the Editor:

About six weeks ago I submitted a letter concerning the lack of property taxation on Clarkson University’s residential holdings. I also faxed and e-mailed it to our representatives Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell and Senator Joe Griffo. I asked for their feedback on reasons why these properties are exempt, but I have received no reply from either office. The only official reply came from Clarkson Universities’ representative Kelly Chezum. Both letters appear on the website northcountrynow.com.

The main issue I raised, the fact that the president’s residence and the on campus apartments are tax exempt, was answered by opinion, and not backed by legislation or legal recourse. Clarkson stated that the president’s residence is used for “functions” and is therefore exempt from paying property taxes. Entertaining is not a valid condition of being tax exempt, even if you are considered not for profit in other areas of your organization. This home is not owned by the State of New York, or for that matter, a church, hospital or library, which would exclude it from taxation. Clarkson may only use this status for education, not for residential use.

To state that the president is under an employment agreement with the university and is available “24/7” as yet another reason this property is exempt is also invalid. Many town leaders- the superintendent of PCS, the mayor, the town supervisor and the Highway Superintendents are all available as much or more than the CU President, yet all of them pay property taxes. Other Clarkson employees- perhaps the Maintenance Director, Foodservice Director and Ms. Chezum herself are most likely available long after their work day is done, but they too pay taxes on their residences. Members of the community who are also available 24/7, such as our volunteer fire fighters and E.M.T.s may be eligible to get a slight tax break on their homes, but they are not completely exempt like the presidential mansion.

This employment contract is between the presiding president and the University. The only way this argument could be valid is if the University and the County have an agreement supporting this arrangement. I highly doubt this is the case. The bottom line is that this residence is not being used in a capacity warranting it to be tax exempt.

On the issue of Clarkson’s apartments being tax exempt, no explanation was given other than this is no different than any other university. This is untrue- other universities with a not for profit status do pay on their apartment holdings. How can Clarkson tell the public that a student living in an on-campus apartment may be classified differently than the same student living in an apartment off campus? Other landlords in Potsdam have paid Clarkson’s share of property taxes for years, and they have housed the same exact tenants. Clarkson’s not -for -profit capacity should be limited to its education, research and development. This is not assumption, this is according to New York State Law.

Not for profit Real Property Tax Law (420-a) states that a property must fall into one of the following categories- charitable, educational, hospital, religious or for the moral or mental health of a man, woman or child. If any not for profit organization has multiple properties and one does not fall under one of these classes then that portion of their holdings may not be exempt from property taxes. These properties in question are all residences. No single family residences or apartments fall under these guidelines. This law also states that any portion of an exempt property that is being used in a profitable manner must be subject to property taxation. (This would include the Subway shop inside Cheel, which is also currently tax exempt.)

I have had feedback from many residents on this letter and I am certain hundreds of county residents would like an explanation as to why these properties are considered exempt. Clarkson may possibly be able to claim an exemption on the land value, but certainly not on the structures. Now that I have heard Clarkson University’s response, I would like to ask the County Administrator Ms. St. Hilaire and/or the County Attorney Mr. Crowe if they would comment on this situation. This topic is not about attacking Clarkson University or the individuals that run it; it is about equality and every member of our community, large and small, paying their fair share.

Peggy Brusso, Town of Potsdam taxpayer & employee