New Hope Mission seeks to keep its tax-exempt status

New Hope Mission seeks to keep its tax-exempt status

NORTH PROVIDENCE - A local mission that served as a target of complaints from residents and Town Council members last year is expected to keep its status as a tax-exempt entity, according to town officials.

The New Hope Mission, a home for troubled men at 1373 Smith St., was required by state law to pay taxes during its first year in operation, but was supposed to get a full exemption as a religious facility in the second year, the current tax year, according to leaders there.

But the tax exemption for the organization went away, and representatives for the church that runs the home, the New Hope Community Church of Christ, were forced to take the town to court over the matter.

Local tax officials are now looking to give the New Hope Mission a property tax abatement for the year based on new information provided to them, but the abatement must first be approved by the Town Council. A vote on the abatement is expected to be on the agenda Aug. 6.

The Rev. Doug Scott, who runs the New Hope Mission, told The Breeze he can't think of another time in the history of the United States that a city or town tried to take away such a tax exemption. The value of the exemption is nearly $13,000 based on a property value of nearly $420,000, according to Scott.

According to Scott and his attorneys, the New Hope Mission falls under the following state exemption:

"Dwellings houses and the land on which they stand, not exceeding one acre in size, or the minimum lot size for zone in which the dwelling house is located, whichever is the greater, owned by or held in trust for any religious organization and actually used by its officiating clergy..."

Mayor Charles Lombardi said Monday that attorneys for the town have told him they don't believe they can be successful in challenging the exemption. The law "is not on our side," said Lombardi, and he doesn't want to challenge the exemption "just to fight the fight."

Lombardi said that the elimination of the exemption was motivated by complaints about disturbances and arrests at the facility last year. He office did not believe that the church was running religious activities at the center, he said.

Town Council President Kristen Catanzaro said she couldn't comment on a council discussion that was held behind closed doors on the New Hope Mission matter earlier this month.

Town Solicitor Anthony Gallone said Monday that he can't talk about "pending litigation." A hearing is scheduled in Superior Court on Aug. 15 to decide whether New Hope Mission will get a permanent injunction barring the town from assessing taxes on the building, said Gallone. Representatives for the New Hope Mission believe the building is exempt because Scott lives there, said Gallone.

Scott said the Aug. 15 hearing won't be necessary if the Town Council makes the right decision on Aug. 6.

"If the town rules in our favor it's pretty much done and the matter's resolved," he said. "We don't foresee it going any other way."

Scott said that representatives for the New Hope Mission are "not seeking any type of special favor" that any other religious institution wouldn't get.

A months-long conflict between the New Hope Mission and its Smith Street neighbors last year led to increased police involvement and a new community crime watch in the fall of 2012.

Through a series of community meetings, representatives for the New Hope Mission were able to reach a shaky truce with neighbors, who had complained about numerous problems in previous months. Police have said many of the issues complained about by neighbors, like loitering and possible housebreaks, have since dissipated.

Scott said last year that some of the complaints from residents were valid, but many had either been "overblown" or were not true at all. Many of those who have been seen bothering local residents "aren't even living in our facility," he said then.

The New Hope Mission is a ministry of the New Hope Community Church of Christ, of North Providence.

According to Scott, the structure at 1373 Smith St. was donated by its former owner in March of 2011 for the purpose of starting a Christian mission for homeless and displaced men.

According to the organization's website, www.recoveryri.info, the New Hope Mission helps those who are "struggling to rejoin society after years of being an outcast." Many are suffering from illness or addiction, according to the site.

New Hope Mission offers transitional housing, an emergency food pantry, a mobile soup kitchen, an emergency overnight shelter, and a Celebrate Recovery group.