Kennedy Dancers director details fight to maintain tax-exempt status in Jersey City

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Kennedy Dancers Founder and Executive Director Diane Dragone detailed their ongoing fight to maintain their tax-exempt status in light of WFMU going public with a similar situation that has already been resolved.

Facebook photo.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“The first time we heard anything about this was in June 2020 we received a letter that said you are no longer tax-exempt: do you want to appeal?,” Dragone said in a phone interview on Saturday, noting that they had received a few calls questioning their status in 2019.

” … In October we received a judgement, it was a formal letter from the Hudson County Board of Taxation. My first thought was ‘They’re making findings without us having representation?’ At the most recent mediation, [Tax Assessor] Mr. [Ed] Toloza said we aren’t an asset to the city.”

Expectedly, Dragone took offense to that characterization, especially since she’s worked in juvenile detention, with St. Jospeh’s Home of the Blind, and wrote the dance curriculum for several school districts including the Hudson County Schools of Technology.

To that end, the New Jersey Department of Education requested her insight to bring several school districts’ dance curriculum up to par back in 2016.

She also said that after being in business for 45 years, they’ve reached over 4,000 students, including providing free dance and fitness class for 1,400 seniors, 200 free performances in local parks, free Zoom classes during the pandemic – among many other efforts.

Dragone indicated that their situation is ongoing and is expecting mediation with the tax assessor to continue into the foreseeable future, which could potentially cost them around $20,000 a year in taxes.

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione called the Kennedy Dancers “a major asset to the community” that has the full support of Mayor Steven Fulop.

“The Kennedy Dancers are a major asset to the community through their dance and education programming, and, as he has worked with WFMU, the mayor is committed to working with the nonprofit’s leadership to make sure their tax exemption status can be maintained and the organization can continue providing Jersey City’s youth with the tremendous benefits they have to offer,” she said.

Last week, WFMU appealed to listeners after the tax assessor’s office called their tax-exempt status into question, however, the radio station announced that their “tax exemption will be put back into place soon” just two days later.

Other non-profits have begun to make their spats with the tax assessor’s office public as well.

For example, Ukrainian National Home of Jersey City President Igor Kolinets created a GoFundMe page earlier this month seeking to raise $10,000 towards a tax payment he said was due on May 10th.

In 2019 we received a bill from Jersey City tax assessor to rewalk our property tax exemption. Since we have hired a lawyer and put together a team of volunteers that have been working every day to resolve this issue,” he wrote.

“We are in contact with the tax assessor office and have currently provided needed paperwork. It is taking longer than anticipated and our funds have run out.”

To date, the page is still active and has raised $1,181. Kolinets describes the organization as “a non-profit civic organization, founded in 1918, and dedicated to serving the needs of The Ukrainian-American Community.”

He could not be reached for further comment on Monday.