PATERSON, NJ – In response to a state audit, the city earlier this year erroneously took tax exempt status away from a 4th Ward mosque and began sending tax bills based on a $321,000 assessment.
But representatives of the mosque complained and the city eventually restored the mosque to the tax exempt list. The City Council on Tuesday night is schedule to approve a refund of about $8,000 for the Islamic center.
Staff members from the Office of the State Controller apparently became confused when they inspected the mosque property at 247-251 Broadway, city officials said. Several stores occupy the street level of the building, while the mosque is located on the second floor, officials said.
About 15 years ago, the city separated the assessments of the property, keeping the first floor on the tax rolls and making the second floor tax exempt, said Paterson assessor Charles Parmelli.
But the state auditors apparently were unaware of the separate assessments, officials said. Parmelli said another city assessor, Matthew Rinaldi, had received the findings of the state audit and removed the mosque from the city’s list of tax exempt properties.
Rinaldi also lifted the tax-exempt status from six other properties highlighted in the state audit, Parmelli said. None of the owners of those other properties have appealed the decision, Parmelli said.
The council resolution lists the owner of the mosque property as the Islamic Center of Passaic County. But Mohamed El Filali, the Iman for that group, said the mosque actually is owned by separate organization with a similar name – the Islamic Center of Passaic. That group could not be reached for comment for this story.
Councilman William McKoy sharply criticized the tax assessor’s office for changing the mosque’s status without consulting with other city officials. “A memo or directive from the state doesn’t cut it,’’ said McKoy. “They don’t have the authority to change the tax status of a property just by their opinion.’’
McKoy argued that if city tax officials need the council’s approval to pay the refund, they also should have gotten the council’s approval to remove the tax exempt status in the first place.
But Parmelli said it was routine for his office to make changes in the city’s tax assessments with getting council approval. For example, he said, he recently restored to the tax rolls several houses in the Eastside area that previously had been used as rectories for churches.
Councilman Kenneth Morris said he understood why Parmelli’s staff did not challenge the state audit determination that the mosque should be taxed. “At the end of the day, you don’t argue against revenue,’’ Morris said.
“Under the system, it’s incumbent upon the taxpayer to challenge,’’ Morris added. “Is it fair? No. At some point, you’ve got to build a better mousetrap.’’