Nassau County Eyes Clergy Tax Exemption

Did you know that New York law provides a partial property tax exemption for residences owned by pastors and other members of the clergy?

Real Property Tax Law Section 460 provides that residential real estate owned by an active member of the clergy, by a former member of the clergy who is unable to perform ecclesiastical duties due to age or disability, or by an unremarried surviving spouse of a deceased clergymember is exempt from general taxes and school taxes to the extent of $1,500 of the property’s assessed value. (Property that is owned by a religious corporation and used as a clergy residence is treated differently; such property is fully exempt from general taxes and school taxes under Real Property Tax Law Section 462). In other words, if a pastor owns a home with an assessed value of $150,000, that home is taxed as though its assessed value is $148,500.

In many cases, the partial exemption provided by Section 460 has only a minor impact on a property tax bill. Nassau County, however, is a different story. Because the county has an unusual method of calculating a property’s assessed value, most residences owned by clergy are effectively exempt from taxation under Section 460. A recent article in Newsday drew attention to the tax exemption, with Nassau County Assessor David Moog stating that “‘all the other taxpayers in Nassau County are paying for that exemption for the clergy.’” According to Moog, it is “‘troubling that the exemption is so great.’” Bishop Lionel Harvey of the First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury took a different view, saying, “‘A lot of people don’t realize how much clergy [sacrifice] for the greater good of the community.’” The article adds that “experts say a change in state law is needed to reduce the outsized impact of the exemptions in Nassau.” However, the article acknowledges that Nassau County adopted its unusual method of calculating assessed value so that it could increase assessed property values more quickly. Ironically, the county’s attempt to increase property tax revenue has caused it to lose revenue from clergy-owned properties.

At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we do not believe a change in Section 460 is necessary. The Nassau County government has only itself to blame for the amount of revenue it is losing due to its method of assessed valuation. If any change to Section 460 is contemplated, NYCF believes an increase in the $1,500 property tax exemption for clergy is appropriate.