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Huge Savings For Cobble Hill Playgroup?

A local non-profit organization may soon be getting some help thanks to friends in public office. According to pending state legislation written exclusively on their behalf, the Cobble Hill Playgroup, Inc. (CHP) may soon be saving themselves as much as $23,000 in property taxes. State Sen. Marty Connor and Assemblymember Joan Millman introduced the legislation, which would see the state refund property taxes that the group has paid for their newly acquired facilities at 93 Rapelye Street. “With the influx of young families to the neighborhood, quality nursing programs have been in high demand,” said Millman. “Anything we can do to preserve educational facilities for our children is a high priority,” she added. According to CHP Board of Directors President Elizabeth Ernish, problems arose after the organization, after years of shuffling the playgroup around various locations in Cobble Hill, finally raised the money to buy its own digs. That space is the 4,000-square-foot cellar/first floor unit at 93 Rapelye Street, which has condos above it, and which the playgroup closed on in February 2005 for $450,000. However, after buying the property, CHP learned of an old law on the City books that states non-profits are liable for the entire first fiscal year of taxes on a property regardless of when during that year the bought it. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. Non-profits do not have to pay property taxes beyond that first year. When the final numbers were tallied, CHP was responsible for pro-rated property taxes of $23,000, according to Ernish. Ernish said CHP went first to the City’s Department of Finance about the situation and were told that the City Council has tried to amend the law, but to no avail, and the law is the law. The CHP board then wrote Millman, who decided to write legislation aimed only at the CHP and not to overturn the law for all non-profits. Millman spokesperson Sam Cooper said Millman decided to write the bill specifically for the CHP as it will probably move through Albany quicker. “There’s also legislation in the assembly that Millman is co-sponsoring that will allow for all non-profit organizations to be exempt from city property taxes upon purchase,” said Cooper. “This [CHP] is a non-profit group that serves our district and we really want to help them out and will work on it through the other bill as well,” he added. Established in the early 1970s by a small group of parents, the Playgroup has operated from six different locations including a storefront on Court Street, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea School, St. Paul’s Church, and a storefront on Union Street. Ernish said there are currently 88 pre-school-aged children participating in the playgroup. This includes some moderate-income families since the tuition is very low, she said. Ernish said the CHP does not offer scholarships, and wasn’t sure if children from low-income families in the nearby Red Hook Houses and other public housing are in the playgroup. According to the CHP website, “Although the majority of the families live in the immediate neighborhood, an increasing number of parents are choosing to travel to the Playgroup.” Connor said through a press release that CHP should get their property taxes refunded. “It is important that all non-profit educational programs be given maximum opportunity to serve our children,” said Connor. “Fairness and sound policy dictates that their tax-exempt status be preserved,” he added.

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