Legal dispute over Meriden nonprofits’ tax exempt status continues


MERIDEN — With new tax bills slated to go out next month, litigation continues between the city and several non-profit agencies over taxes levied during the previous tax year.

MidState Arc and Easterseals of Greater Waterbury both challenged the city’s determination in 2021 that their properties would no longer be deemed tax exempt. Both organizations’ complaints are still in court, as a series of new pending lawsuits against the city by other property owners contesting their most recent assessments have recently been filed.

Meanwhile, Superior Court records show that the Women & Families Center, a third non-profit agency that filed a legal challenge of its taxes assessed in 2021, negotiated a stipulated judgment with the city to settle that dispute.

The contested assessment was for the WYSH House, at 183 Colony St., which the Women & Families Center owned and opened that same year to provide supportive temporary housing for homeless youth.

The Women & Families Center argued the property had been wrongly assessed as taxable. Previous tax bills showed the center at one point owed $51,728 for the property. The organization claimed the city “laid a tax on a property that is not taxable.”

City attorneys wrote in an answer to the complaint in July 2021 that the center incorrectly implied that its tax exempt status had been revoked, “as this terminology wrongly implies a continuing legal right to a tax exemption.”

However, months later, both sides would sign a stipulated judgment, which was reached in part because of a state Supreme Court case, Rainbow Housing Corporation v. Town of Cromwell, which was decided in September 2021. That decision clarified the definition of temporary housing to mean “impermanent” and “transitory” without needing a specified duration.

City Manager Timothy Coon wrote in a message to the Record-Journal, the matter between the city of Meriden and Women & Families Center “was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. The taxes have been refunded, as the information received through litigation, along with the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in Rainbow Housing Corp. v. Town of Cromwell, led to the City granting an exception.”

Women & Families Center Chief Executive Officer Wayne Valaitis said the court established in the Rainbow Housing case that the town of Cromwell “could not strip them of their non-profit status” over the issue of providing temporary housing.

Women & Families Center had a similar case with the WYSH House.

“We reached out to the legal counsel for the city of Meriden,” Valaitis said. “The idea was that they were going to remove any tax assessments for the last year. They would then reimburse us for the one payment we made. There were no guarantees beyond that, what would happen.”

Valaitis said the assessed tax — more than $50,000 — on the property, had been excessive.

“We have only 12 apartments. That’s $4,000 a year per apartment,” Valatis said, noting that adds up to more than $300 a month in taxes alone per apartment. “I have never seen taxes levied like that on an apartment building.”

Easterseals, in its complaint filed last year, maintained that the Meriden city assessor’s office revoked the tax exemption status of two of its properties, 125 Broad St. and 158 State St. Both of those properties had previously been classified as tax exempt, according to Easterseals’ complaint.

The alleged organization it was not given any notice that its properties would be subject to taxes, and stated the city’s decision to revoke its tax exemption was done in violation of Connecticut statutes.

A review of Meriden city tax bills showing the Broad Street property is still considered a commercial property by city officials, and has been assessed at $461,720. The current tax bill owed for the property is $16,169.44, according to city records.

MidState Arc Inc., in its complaint, described the city’s assessment of its Alexander Drive group home as “grossly excessive, disproportionate, and unlawful.”

Coon, the city manager, declined to comment on either matter due to the pending litigation.

“However, speaking generally, the City and its assessor must have access to sufficient information to determine that the properties qualify for tax exemptions,” Coon wrote. “When there is insufficient information provided, or the information provided does not meet the threshold, the property is taxed at the normal mill rate. The City continues to work with all property owners within the City to determine the proper tax status and will continue to ensure that organizations who meet the statutory threshold are exempt from taxation.”

Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at mgagne@record-journal.com.

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