Forum planned in Norwich for nonprofits denied tax-exempt status

Norwich — Three regional nonprofit groups will host a forum May 21 for Norwich nonprofits denied tax-exempt status by the city assessor this spring to discuss legal issues and ways to challenge what organizers called “shortsighted actions” that could damage the city.

The forum will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 21 at Otis Library community room, 261 Main St., Norwich to discuss Norwich Assessor Donna Ralston’s decision to deny tax exempt status to about three dozen nonprofit groups on the 2017 grand list. The list includes mainstay Norwich agencies, including Reliance Health, United Community and Family Services, Bethsaida Community, Inc. and the Norwich Arts Center. At least 18 entities were denied after they failed to file statements required every four years under state law. The others were denied under Ralston’s authority.

Property belonging to the groups ranges in assessed value from a few hundred dollars to a few million dollars.

The forum will be co-hosted by the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, The Alliance: Voice of Community Nonprofits and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. The forum is free and open to the public, but registration is required and available online at www.CultureSECT.org.

Speakers will give an overview of state statutes governing nonprofit property tax exemption, general information about current public policy, and local and state case studies. The forum is intended for information only, and no legal advice will be provided, the groups said in a press release issued Wednesday.

Speakers include attorneys Eric J. Garafano and Mark Shipman, Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of The Alliance, Ben Shaiken, manager of advocacy and public policy for The Alliance and Wendy Bury, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition.

“We felt compelled to offer this free forum to provide vital information and educate nonprofits about the issue," Bury said in the press release. “The Cultural Coalition has more than 200 nonprofit partners (40 percent of our total partners), and denial of tax exemption has affected not only our own organization, but many of our partners and potentially more in the future.”

Casa said “more and more tax assessors” are seeking to get tax money from nonprofit properties, taking funds from arts groups, agencies that help people with disabilities, substance abuse treatment programs, shelters and other services.

“This forum is the start to finding solutions that will stop short-sighted actions which, if unchecked, will seriously damage their own communities and state,” Casa said.

Maryam Elahi, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, said the forum is designed to educate nonprofits and members of the public on the issue and what she called important state statutes on nonprofit tax exemptions.

The Alliance represents hundreds of nonprofit organizations across all categories throughout the state. The Community Foundation of Eastern CT serves 42 towns.

c.bessette@theday.com

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