WFMU, the longest running freeform radio station in the country, is appealing to listeners after their tax-exempt status in Jersey City has been called into question.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“The city of Jersey City has asked WFMU to prove that its programming has educational value, as a condition of keeping its tax exemption. This is a serious matter to the financial health of the station,” WMFU morning host Clay Pigeon wrote yesterday.
“As part of this effort, we’re asking our listeners to provide letters or emails explaining how and why WFMU’s programming has not just entertained them, but has also provided educational value. The educational value can be related to the history and relationship between culture or ideas, or more direct value such as information about any matters of public importance.”
He added that letters and/or emails should be addressed to the city, kept to 300 words, and sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WFMU Station Manager and Program Director Ken Freedman said that the city has not set a definitive timeline or put anything in writing, but after a phone call are expecting a hearing where they expect “to prove that we are highly educational.”
“Prior to this ‘educational’ issue, the city tax office had earlier told us that we could no longer be tax exempt from property tax, because we rented the ground floor of our building out to a commercial tenant. I explained that the tenant moved out in 2014. They inspected us, found that to be the case, and then came up with a new reason for the shakedown,” he claimed in an email.
” … We’ve been extremely strapped for cash and had only just started getting back to financial stability. The amount that the city is trying to get from us is enormous and would make the difference between operating in the red and operating in the black. We have been a great resource for Jersey City and beyond, have produced many educational events in our venue Monty Hall (still closed due to COVID) as well as on the air.”
In response, city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said Mayor Steven Fulop is in full support of WFMU and categorized the tax assessor as “a state employee.”
“Mayor Fulop wholeheartedly disagrees with the Tax Assessor and his actions. While the Tax Assessor is a state employee that doesn’t report to the city government directly, the Mayor is looking forward to doing whatever he can to help WFMU as he knows firsthand they are a tremendous asset to the city,” she said.
According to Jersey City’s website, “The office of the City Assessor shall be charged with the duty of assessing real property for the purpose of general taxation” and the assessor is listed as Eduardo C. Toloza, CPA.
Furthermore, Ward E Councilman James Solomon referred to WFMU as “a Jersey City treasure” that he will fight for to ensure they maintain their tax-empt status. WFMU owns a waterfront property located at 43 Montgomery St., which is part of Ward E.
Amy Wilson, a longtime listener and supporter of WFMU who has been corralling support for them on Twitter, described the station as “the Metropolitan Art Museum of sound.”
“WFMU is an educational asset because they play a lot of rare and obscure music that doesn’t get aired anywhere else. This isn’t a station that just plays “indie rock” or whatever — this is a station that preserves and airs music that is of historic importance and would be only listened to by academics and historians if they didn’t exist,” she said.
“By broadcasting and streaming, they make that history available to anyone interested, and it should be of great pride to Jersey City that they’re doing this in our home. Anyone who cares about music history or the history of sound art, or any topic even tangentially related to that recognizes their importance. They’re like the Metropolitan Art Museum of sound.”
WFMU, which began as Upsala College’s campus radio station, airs on 91.1FM and moved their headquarters into Jersey City’s Exchange Place neighborhood in 1998.