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Judge reverses Freeport decision to deny tax-exempt status to homeless agency

A State Supreme Court judge has reversed Freeport's decision to deny an agency's reapplication for tax-exempt status.

Village officials had denied the status for Options for Community Living, which provides services to homeless people, including those with mental or chronic illnesses.

The agency, based in Smithtown and Hempstead, operates 156 homes across Long Island, including four in Freeport.

Justice Thomas Feinman ruled on Aug. 13 that the village failed to show its revocation of the tax-exempt status "was proper," "had a rational basis" and was "not arbitrary and capricious."

The ruling ordered the tax-exempt status be restored.

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said he was not aware of the decision and could not comment on it. Attorneys for the village -- from the Uniondale firm Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana LLP -- did not return calls seeking comment.

Representatives of Options for Community Living did not return calls and its lawyer, Richard Cordano, of the Hauppauge law firm of Russo, Karl, Widmaier & Cordano PLLC, said he had no comment.

Feinman's decision said the village's written denial of tax-exempt status consisted of placing a check mark next to "nonprofit exemption on the above referenced property has been denied," without further explanation. The denial also had a box checked indicating the "property is not used for tax-exempt purposes."

Feinman noted the denials included opportunities for agency officials to file a grievance if they disagreed with the determination.

But the grievances resulted in subsequent written denials with a similar format that said "your petitions have been denied for the following reason: Insufficient Evidence."

The village had argued in court filings that Freeport officials had seen out-of-state license plates on cars at two of the houses and notified the residents. They said one house was vacant and under construction and another had several unrelated residents although it was a single-family home.

Feinman concluded that it was the village's responsibility to "demonstrate that the four properties are no longer entitled to the exemption."

He added that the village's concerns indicate "only possible or 'potential' issues," all unsubstantiated, and that those concerns were not stated in the written denials.

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