Stockbridge sends Kripalu a tax bill

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But as yet, it is unclear whether the nonprofit organization will be liable for the real estate taxes. The matter is now being handled by lawyers for both the town and the nonprofit yoga center.

The town's chief assessor, Michael Blay, said Kripalu has until May 1 to appeal the bill. Town officials also are considering whether a formalized agreement with Kripalu regarding its "payment in lieu of taxes — also known as PILOT payment — would satisfy the town's concerns.

"We're still up in the air as to what we are going to do," he said. "I think we're hoping our attorney will come back with a number for a PILOT program payment, and hopefully (Kripalu) will agree.

"Being tax-exempt is one thing, but we want to make sure we are paid," Blay said. "But we don't have any PILOT program in place. This is a way of triggering awareness, and we will look into it, for Kripalu and others could be looked at as well."

Earlier this year, the Assessors, and now the town's attorney, reviewed data about the nonprofit Kripalu organization, its various programs and that tax-exempt status allowed the organization by the federal government.

Since the early 1980s, Kripalu has operated as a nonprofit organization with a tax-exempt status based on both its religious and educational programs; the organization was initially founded on Eastern spiritual teachings at the former Jesuit seminary above Stockbridge Bowl.

Within the past year or two, Kripalu redefined its mission, excluding the "religious" nature of its formal mission statement and emphasizing its educational programs.

Both Kripalu and the town have described the discussions over property taxes as quite amicable and cooperative.

Cathy Husid-Shamir, spokeswoman for Kripalu, said that Kripalu has received its bill.

"We've given the information to our attorney, and the lawyers are going to talk," she said. "The hope on our end is we can come to some kind of PILOT agreement. We've given them a ton of information, and this will bring out a conversation."

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The issue of taxing Kripalu has been rumbling for a couple of years, as some town residents and officials have begun to question whether the organization's programs are more in line with a spa or resort.

Kripalu responded with extensive information about the educational nature of teaching and wellness-related programs, some of which are licensed by the state Department of Education.

This year, the town has assessed Kripalu's three land parcels at $8.44 million.

Kripalu leaders also have expressed willingness to consider a formalized PILOT agreement.

A number of the town's nonprofit organizations make annual voluntary payments to the town, and Kripalu is among them. Last year, Kripalu contributed $20,000 and gave $15,000 the year before.

However, there are no formal agreements in place with Kripalu or other organizations, guaranteeing PILOT contributions.

Kripalu's revenues have dramatically risen in recent years — to about $23 million in 2006 — as yoga and wellness programs have becoming increasingly popular.

The organization draws about 25,000 people to Stockbridge each year, and this year, Kripalu is breaking ground on a capital expansion plan that will include an annex with 80 guest rooms.

The project is backed by a tax-exempt bond awarded to nonprofit organizations.

To reach Ellen G. Lahr: elahr@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6240


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