Yogaville's taxes questioned

The Daily Press/August 3, 1987
By the Associated Press

Buckingham--Buckingham County officials want to determine if they can limit the amount of land that can be exempt from real estate taxes at the religious community of Yogaville.

County Administrator Arthur L. Lane Jr. said he took the matter to the Board of Supervisors in response to reports that all 684 acres were exempt from taxes at the growing spiritual community of about 100 people in western Buckingham.

Lane said 193 acres are tax-exempt at Yogaville, including a school, the home of spiritual leader Swami Satchidananda and the site of the LOTUS, or Light of Truth Universal Shrine. The $2 million temple for world religions was dedicated in July.

Board members "don't see any reason for that much acreage being exempt," lane said.

He said the commonwealth's attorney has been asked to look into the matter.

"The general feeling by some citizens is that&perhaps Yogaville is not paying its fair share of taxes, " Supervisor Fillmer Hevener said Tuesday.

"I dont want to set a specific amount" of land that should be tax-exempt, Hevener said, "but maybe four or five or six acres per building seems to me to be a reasonable amount to require for access to the buildings. Two hundred acres seems to me a bit excessive.

Hevener said that if it is determined the supervisors have authority to limit the amount of land that can tax-exempt, and "the board felt there was more land tax-exempt than need be, I think it would take appropriate action within its legal power."

The tax-exempt land valued at $434,700 represents about $1,800 in real estate revenue, Lane said.

Yogaville will pay about $3,000 in real estate taxes this year on 491 acres valued at $749,600, based on the county's levy of 41 cents per $100.00 of assessed value, he said.

The local commissioner of revenue confers tax-exempt status, Lane said, but land also can be exempt by state legislation. Tax-exempt status goes to the buildings of most churches and schools. It also includes buildings owned by state or local governments and non-profit groups, such as rescue squads and fire departments.

"We feel that if it's under review, we're sure that the commonwealth's attorney will review it fairly," said Swami Shankarananda, president of the ashram, or spiritual community, at Yogaville.

Shankarananda said the buildings at Yogaville have been tax-exempt since about 1984. The number of ashram residents has grown in the past year from about 80 to its current 100, he said.


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