23 residents in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood of downtown Princeton have joined a lawsuit filed against the University’s tax-exempt status on April 1.
Every year by April 1, a new suit has to be filed to continue the preexisting proceedings,Bruce Afran, an attorney who represents the plaintiffs, said.
The original suit was filed in 2011 by several residents of Princeton, and was subsequently challenged by the University in February 2015, but was overturned by Judge Vito Bianco of the New Jersey State Tax Court.
Bianco’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Robert Durkee ’69, University vice president and secretary, wrote in an email that neither the University nor the tax management office have received filing of the update to the new suit yet.
He declined to comment further until such information is provided.
Media relations specialist Min Pullan and General Counsel Ramona Romero did not respond to a request for comment.
The New Jersey Tax Court clarified in November 2015 that the University must carry a burden of proof to ensure tax exemption. The trial for the suit is set to take place in October 2016, but Afran noted that reaching a conclusion will take much longer.
Afran said that filmmaker Greg Moore and former Princeton Borough Mayor and Witherspoon-Jackson resident Yina Moore had initially informed him that residents of the neighborhood wanted to join as plaintiffs.
Both Greg and Yina Moore did not respond to a request for comment.
“This particular neighborhood has had unreasonably high taxes, and those have come about because gentrification of some of the housing in the neighborhood,” Afran said.
Most people in this area are not high-income, so the tax burden in the town is hitting the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood even harder than almost anywhere else in the community, he added.
“Although the University is not responsible for the tax increases, its position of not properly contributing to the tax base is hurting the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood much more than anyone else,” he said.
Afran noted that the addition of plaintiffs serves as a statement of injustice on the University’s tax position. However, it might not necessarily affect the case considerably, he added.
In a previous interview with the Daily Princetonian, Afran said that the University jointly owns 20 private businesses and is engaged in commercial enterprises such as real estate, restaurants and pharmaceuticals. These activities constitute actions that endanger the University’s tax exemption status, he said.
Early this February, Bianco ruled against the University in a separate lawsuit case regarding tax exemptions. In that lawsuit, the University attempted to dismiss a lawsuit that challenges its tax-exemptions on 19 buildings, including Frist Campus Center and McCarter Theatre.
The series of challenges to the University’s tax-exempt status could have state and national effects on the tax-exempt status of peer institutions, Durkee said in a previous interview with the Daily Princetonian.
According to Durkee, the trial concerning legal questions of tax-exemption in that case was originally scheduled for June 2016 but was moved to October 2016.previous interview