Beit Shalom files lawsuit against Utica
Beit Shalom, the synagogue in the heart of Utica’s downtown area, has filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming a violation of the right to conduct religious services.
Beit Shalom files lawsuit against Utica
UTICA — Beit Shalom, the synagogue in the heart of Utica’s downtown area, has filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming a violation of the right to conduct religious services.
In the lawsuit obtained by the Daily Sentinel, the synagogue has alleged three notable issues with the city that it claims have obstructed them from conducting their religious services:
The synagogue, at 48 Franklin Square, is used for religious worship services, congregational activities and community outreach programs.
The synagogue has also been granted Section 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service, which qualifies it to receive tax-deductible contributions and tax-exempt status as a religious organization.
The lawsuit claims that the city did not send Beit Shalom a tax exemption application, form RP 262, for the 2020 tax year, as it had in previous years.
Stephen Galiley, rabbi for Beit Shalom and the plaintiff in the lawsuit, noticed he did not receive a form from the city around early August 2019 and filled out a form from a prior year to submit to the Utica City Tax Assessor’s Office.
Upon attempting to file the form with the assessor’s office, Galiley was informed that the form was due by Aug. 1 of that year and a late application would not be accepted, denying Beit Shalom tax-exempt status.
According to the New York State Real Property Tax Law, if the assessor does not receive such an application, he or she may still grant the exemption as long as the assessor personally inspects the property and certifies in writing that it meets all of the requirements for exemption.
Mark Wolber, attorney for Stephen Galiley and Beit Shalom, claims he requested that the city conduct a personal inspection, however, the assessor’s office informed Wolber that an inspection would not be conducted since the request was made after Aug. 1.
On June 29, 2021, part of the limestone trim that was attached to the building fell onto the sidewalk, claiming extensive public road construction as the reason why it fell off the building.
While the lawsuit claims the limestone trim was not load-bearing and did not support the structure, the city’s fire marshal posted signs on the entrances to the synagogue claiming the synagogue was “unsafe due to structural deficiencies.”
After hiring a structural engineer to evaluate and prove the structural integrity of the synagogue and hiring a contractor to remove the remaining limestone trim, Wolber requested to the city’s Corporation Council that the synagogue be permitted to reopen, which was denied.
The synagogue was reopened only after escalating the issue to the New York State Supreme Court, where on Feb. 28 of last year, an order was signed to allow them to reopen and to have the city withdraw all code violations against it.
On the same day that part of the limestone trim fell from the building, the city’s fire marshal, in addition to the signs they posted on the entrances of the building, served the synagogue with two notices and orders alleging the structure was in imminent danger of collapsing.
Beit Shalom claims there was never any issue with the synagogue’s foundation wall and that there was never an imminent danger that the structure would collapse, later providing a report indicating so.
The city later alleged Galiley violated the New York State Property Maintenance Code for not correcting the alleged violations of the structure.
Galiley, who does not own the building, was served with two appearance tickets dated Oct. 8, 2021.
Galiley, along with his attorney, made several appearances in Utica City Court, where charges were eventually withdrawn in the city’s court to escalate to the New York State Supreme Court, which made the decision to reopen the synagogue and have all code violations rescinded.
“Every effort was made along the way in every one of these three situations to resolve it with the city amicably, I had no interest in going to court for every one of these issues,” Wolber said. “I really wasn’t expecting to be bringing this lawsuit because I expected that we [would] work it out and get the thing resolved, but it didn’t come out that way. They just kept fighting with us all the way through about everything. That’s why we filled the lawsuit because they wouldn’t work with us to get these things resolved.”
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri declined to provide any comments as the litigation is pending.
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