Thrift Shop seeks tax abatement

Should a charitable institution that gives away all its profits to local causes have to pay real estate taxes to the town? What if it doesn’t own the property, but is obligated by its lease to pay the taxes charged to a private commercial landlord?

That’s the situation the selectmen will have to sort through concerning the Thrift Shop, which has requested an abatement of taxes that amounts to $17,000 a year on space it will now be renting in the Donnelly shopping center.

“I don’t know, the Thrift Shop every year gives a lot of money back to the town,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said recently. “They presented that last year they gave over $160,000 to various organizations.”

The selectmen are due to take the issue up Wednesday, April 19, having discussed it briefly with Thrift Shop representatives Mary Ellen Loncto and former First Selectwoman Sue Manning back in March.

The issue comes up because of the Thrift Shop’s planned moved, leaving the building on Catoonah Street — owned by the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association, a non-profit itself — and moving into commercial space at 27 Governor Street, in the Donnelly shopping center.

The shop is leaving about 2,000 square feet of space in the old location and will have 5,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and another 5,000 square feet of storage space in the basement at its new location.

When the idea was first presented, the question wasn’t resolved, with an understanding it would come up again on a future agenda.

Board members’ initial reaction seemed skeptical.

“It’s going to be $17,000 the town’s forgoing,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark. “We’d have to make it up somewhere … raising taxes.”

The selectmen were also concerned that other groups would seek similar tax abatements.

“If this set a precedent, and it will, we’re going to be asked, case by case,” said Kozlark.

Other organizations

Selectwoman Barbara Manners said she was trying to think of other charitable organizations that leased commercial space in town.

“The only one I can think of is SPHERE,” she said.

“The Thrift Shop is the only one that gives money away, rather than service,” said Manning. “Our money goes across the board to probably every nonprofit in town,” Loncto said. “About 40 of them.”

The whole situation is made trickier because the Thrift Shop didn’t own the property, and the taxes were actually levied on the private landlord — with the Thrift Shop obligated to cover them through the terms of its lease.

Not setting a precedent

As the second meeting approached, Marconi told The Press that the selectmen have — in the past — waived taxes to the Boys & Girls Club, based on its charitable role in the community.

“We do grant an abatement to the Boys & Girls Club every year — based on their application, and they have to request it. Therefore the abatement for the Thrift Shop is not truly precedent-setting,” he said.

“So the board may be more receptive to an abatement directly to the Thrift Shop. The issue previously was that the abatement would be granted to the landlord.”