Saturday, May 3, 2014
I had the burden privilege of presenting twice at ALPS this year. Yesterday, I was on a panel with Fred Cheever, Nancy McLaughlin, and Buzz Thompson discussing conservation easements. We each presented separate papers, all related to issues arising with conservation easements as their use has grown. My own project was about the changes we are seeing to conservation easement documents over time, demonstrating the increasing complexities of the arrangements and the documents. Additionally, conservation easements appear to have increasingly permissive terms. That is landowners with land burdened by newer conservation easements can do more on their land generally than landowners with land burdened by older conservation easements. Our research group is still working on this project and exploring the implications, but welcome any comments and thoughts!
Today, Nancy, Fred, and I led a roundtable discussion on some of the developing debates about land conservation, charitable purposes, and the incoherent (and offensive) practice of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILTs/PILOTs). While it was probably the panel that drew the fewest audience members (thanks Christy and Shelley!), but the most fun and helpful for me. We are very excited to put together an actual paper in the coming months, but I will leave you with our official abstract:
New Battlegrounds in Local Property Taxation: From Universities to Retirement Homes to Conservation Land Owned by Land Trusts
Cash-strapped local governments throughout the United States are struggling to find ways to increase their revenues. One potentially lucrative source of revenue is property tax collected from nonprofit organizations. Localities are increasingly asserting the right to impose property taxes on land owned by a variety of nonprofits, from wealthy Universities such as Princeton, to upscale retirement homes that operate like five star hotels, to land conservation organizations—and the nonprofits are fighting back. Whether such attempts to raise revenue will be upheld by the courts, and whether voluntary payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) or services in lieu of taxes (SILOTs) offered to localities by some of the nonprofits will keep local assessors at bay remains to be seen. Federico Cheever, Professor of Law, University of Denver College of Law, Nancy A. McLaughlin, Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, Jessica Owley, Associate Professor of Law at SUNY Buffalo Law School, will discuss these new property tax exemption battlegrounds; the legal grounds on which localities are asserting the right to impose such taxes, the defenses offered by the nonprofits, the efficacy of PILOTs and SILOTs, and what property taxation may mean for different segments of the charitable sector. Central to this discussion is what we as a society consider to be a “charitable” use of property deserving of a tax exemption and how the definition of charitable evolves over time.