Effingham—September 19, 2018—In a September 14 decision, the State Supreme Court reversed a Superior Court ruling that denied a charitable property tax exemption for Camp Marist, the Catholic-oriented children’s camp on Leavitt Bay. The high court found that the trial court judge erred last year when she found in favor of the Town of Effingham in a lawsuit that the camp filed after its annual application for a charitable exemption was denied by the Select Board in 2015.
The town argued to the lower court that the camp had failed to meet its burden of proof to qualify for the exemption for reasons that included an “unremarkable” number of scholarships for families in need. It also cited a mission that was overly broad and programs that resembled those offered at for-profit camps. The Superior Court judge found in favor of the town in January 2017 and Marist appealed.
In its 20-page reversal of the Superior Court decision, the high court ruled that Marist had met the criteria of a four-factor tax exemption eligibility test in the precedent case “Elder-Trust of Florida vs. Town of Epsom.” That is, the court found, the camp is established and administered for a charitable purpose, performs that purpose for public rather than private benefit, occupies the property and uses it for the stated charitable purpose, and grants no pecuniary profit or benefit to its officers and members.
This is not the first time that the town and the camp have argued over property taxes. According to reporting by the Carroll County Independent, Effingham’s Select Board denied Camp Marist’s application for a property tax exemption in 1990. The town’s decision was upheld by the state’s Board of Tax and Land Appeals, but the parties subsequently entered into a long-term agreement that provided the town with up to 30 annual scholarships for its school-age children. That agreement ended after the 2014 camping season, according to the Independent’s account.
Camp Marist has operated as a religious seasonal children’s camp since 1950, originally for boys and later for girls as well. It is owned by Marist Brothers of New Hampshire, a non-profit corporation formed in 1949 to acquire the 159-acre property from Sadie Fritz, whose business on the site was known as the Fritz Camps.
The camp is staffed by a mix of Marist Brothers, who receive only room and board, and paid staff. A majority of its campers come from outside the state, with only 13 state residents out of 490 campers in the 2015 season, according to court documents.