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FRANKLIN TWP. - A golf course operating on state land is exempt from paying more than $1 million in property taxes to Franklin Township, a judge ruled.
A tax dispute between White Oaks Country Club and the township dating back to 2012 was settled by a New Jersey tax court judge Tuesday.
Tax assessors for the township considered property where White Oaks Country Club operated non-exempt in 2012, assessing the property at $1.1 million in taxes. The golf club challenged the assessment, claiming the land is state-owned and should be exempt.
Judge Patrick DeAlmeida determined the land purchased through state Green Acres program funds as part of a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Pinelands project is used for a public purpose despite White Oaks operating a clubhouse and pro shop on the grounds.
In 2006, the NJDEP bought the 237-acre Dutch Mill Road property where White Oaks Country Club operated.
The land includes a wildlife management area on the property to be protected and never developed. The property transaction included an agreement the club would continue to operate the golf course under a five-year agreement ending in 2011. The agreement required the state to approve the public country club's fees. The country club was required to pay all taxes due on the land until then, as it continued to operate like it had until the property sale.
But in 2012, the agreement ended and the state accepted proposals in a bidding process for golf club operators. White Oaks won the bid, entering into a new five-year contract with the state.
The country club claims it is exempt from taxes, arguing its course is a public recreation site, based on the DEP's rules, in addition to the property being owned by the state. The township tax assessor argued the for-profit components of the golf club disqualify it from state laws concerning property exemptions for charitable uses, like churches.
The judge, however, determined the property is exempt from assessment, as the use of the land furthers an "authorized public purpose," court documents indicate, noting a golf course is a use allowed by state laws.
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