PALENVILLE, NEW YORK -- The Maetreum of Cybele got to the end of its seven-year property-tax fight with the Town of Catskill today, when a three-judge panel of Appellate Court judges ruled that they do, indeed, deserve the same tax exemptions that other churches do. While the town still has one more chance to appeal at the state's highest court, Reverend Cathryn Platine feels that the decision's wording makes that unlikely. A portion provided by Platine reads as follows:
That's what one of the justices -- described by a courtroom regular as "very Catholic" -- remarked during oral arguments about the Maetreum of Cybele's property tax exemption case. The Town of Catskill gave this Pagan congregation the religious tax break in 2006, then yanked it, and it's been in court ever since. This afternoon it was before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the lofty title given to the ''second''-highest court in the state. The appeal was to a lower court decision (that's the Supreme Court if you're keeping track) that determined that no, a property tax exemption was not necessary for what the ruling justice deemed was essentially a residence.
Four justices heard the oral arguments, with ten minutes from the appellant's attorney Deborah Schneer, then ten minutes from Daniel Vincellente for the town, and another minute of rebuttal by Schneer.
You only get an appeal if the lower court screwed up, and Schneer said that it had. "The trial court did not address at all the testimony which showed that the residential use cannot be distinguished from the religious use," she told the justices. The decision against the Cybellines had largely hinged on a decision in the case of a Sapphardic Jewish community in neighboring Sullivan county, in which the first floor of a building was devoted to religious practice and the two upper floors were the rabbi's residence. In that case, the courts had ruled that only the first floor would be exempted from property tax. Schneer instead pointed to a case in which a Hutterian colony was given full exemption because "living in community is central to their religious practice," as with the Cybellines....