On June 15, Sullivan County’s Times Herald Record ran a story on the Oasis Animal Sanctuary, ‘When is an animal sanctuary not a sanctuary?’ The story told that even after 10 years in operation as a non-profit organization, an animal sanctuary, the Town of Callicoon refuses to recognize Oasis’ tax exempt status.
Oasis Animal Sanctuary has been sheltering, feeding and caring for animals in North Branch for 10 years now. In each of those 10 years, Oasis has been required to pay property taxes, totaling about $130,000 to date.
As far as I know, nonprofit organizations are normally exempt from taxes. After all, they’re not making any money for themselves; they’re trying to help others.
However, the Town of Callicoon will not recognize Oasis as a nonprofit animal sanctuary, although Oasis has provided all the necessary documentation on its 501c(3) status. Oasis has provided financial statements, veterinary bills, letters of recommendation, food bills and even copies of this newspaper’s Pets of the Week pages, where Oasis is listed.
Sanctuary director Eddie Lama has attended town tax assessment grievance meetings three years in a row requesting the exemption.
“At the last meeting in May,” said Lama, “I asked (town assessor) Bonnie Hubert, ‘How do you base your decision that this is not a sanctuary?’ She said, ‘Well, I drove by, and there was nothing going on.'”
Lama invited Hubert and Town Supervisor Gregg Semenetz to come out and see the sanctuary. I was also invited.
Semenetz and Hubert arrived at Oasis with a deputy supervisor and a building inspector.
Lama expressed anger that a building inspector was being brought onto his property when his appointment was with the other two. Whether or not Oasis would pass an inspection was irrelevant to its tax-exempt status.
Lama asked Hubert to clarify the exact reason of their visit.
“I want to see what’s here, what the property’s used for,” she said. “I didn’t feel it was being used for tax-exempt purposes. I don’t know what the purpose is. That is why I’m here.”
Lama explained Oasis’ purpose:
“We’re a 501c(3) for the last 10 years. Our mission is to care for animals, adopt them out and operate as a sanctuary.”
When Lama insisted again that the uninvited guests leave, voices were raised and tempers flared. Semenetz declared that Lama’s lack of cooperation would result in a loss of his conditional use permit.
Lama apologized for his anger and offered to make an appointment with the inspector for a later date, but the four town representatives drove away without touring Oasis.
What was going on here? Later, I called Semenetz to get the town’s side of this story.
“First off, they’re not a sanctuary, from the Town of Callicoon’s position,” Semenetz said. “The only thing they have on file is a kennel license. If they want to call it a sanctuary, they’d have to petition the town to create a category of sanctuary. In the town’s eyes, there is no sanctuary. There is no category, and it’s a nonconforming use within the Town of Callicoon.”
Semenetz said that Oasis does have a kennel license that is conditional on all dogs being housed in the large kennel on its property. However, Lama said that poor drainage results in flooding of the kennel, and dogs have to be moved to the other Oasis buildings from time to time. Limited funds have prevented Lama from fixing the problem.
“He’s never made the change from a kennel to a sanctuary,” Semenetz said. “He has never come to the town that he wants to be a sanctuary. He never asked.”
Wouldn’t attending tax grievance meetings armed with proof of nonprofit status and other documentation be considered asking?
Semenetz also said Oasis is in violation of the town’s five-cat limit.
Lama said the law, which came into effect about five years ago, was never an issue until he started fighting property taxes. In fact, more than four years ago, “he (Sementz) sold me the lumber I used to build the extension on the cat house,” Lama said.
So, where does it stand now?
“Let the attorneys handle it, and let the judge decide,” Semenetz said.
In a county with limited animal sheltering resources, Oasis is a “sanctuary” willing to help all those in need. Oasis manager Christine Martin said the money Oasis had paid in property taxes could’ve gone toward food, supplies and veterinary care for Callicoon’s homeless animals.
“We can only do so much,” said Martin. “The biggest thing people in the community come to us for is taking animals. We could be doing so much more if we had more resources.
“We want to be here for the community. We want to know that you (the community) support our work.”
Subsequent to the release of this news story, the Town Supervisor Gregg Semenetz, along with Town Tax Assessor Bonnie Hubert, rescinded the kennel variance permit which Oasis has held since 1998. The ramifications of this despicable move by the Town of Callicoon means that Oasis can be fined for Town Zoning Violations and ultimately, all the dogs and cats in our care could be confiscated– in effect, closing Oasis down. We must not let this happen. Oasis is one of the very few ethical and dutiful sanctuaries in the region. The animals will certainly find themselves in a perilous position if we are not allowed to function. The Town and the local Animal Control Officer have done nothing to help the animals.
How can anyone be so sheerly mean and petty?? For 10 years this sanctuary has operated saving animals in the most dire need, providing food, shelter and medical treatment and now the wonderful town is deciding to play political games. Bad enough they basically ‘stole’ $130K over 10 yrs in taxes that weren’t due to them but now when things aregetting out in the open, they retaliate by trying to shut them down!
Visit Oasis’ website and read their story, then repost this and get the word out. This is just so wrong!
To voice your concerns and support, please call;
Town of Callicoon Supervisor, Mr. Gregg Semenetz at 845-482-3150
Town Assessor, Ms. Bonnie Hubert at 845-482-5390, ext. 302.
Politely tell them to IMMEDIATELY reinstate Oasis’s kennel permit and to honor Oasis’s right to function as a property tax-exempt organization.
Their fax# – 845-482-5030.
Their mailing address is;
Town of Callicoon
Attention: Gregg Semenetz
P. O. Box 427
Jeffersonville, New York 12748