High Court rejects city's appeal seeking to strip Rochester's fair of nonprofit status

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A huge crowd of fairgoers enjoy a Saturday afternoon at the Granite State Fair during its run last September (Rochester Voice file photo)

CONCORD - The city's long battle to strip the Rochester Fair of its nonprofit status is finally over after Tuesday's decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court ordered that its organizers - the Rochester Agricultural & Mechanical Association - be recognized as a charitable organization for its educational aspects in the realms of agriculture and farming.
The high court decision soundly rejected Rochester's appeal of a ruling by the Board of Tax and Land Appeals that affirmed RAMA was, indeed, entitled to its tax-exempt status.
The court case arose out of the city's decision in 2020 to deny RAMA their nonprofit tax exemption, leading to a protracted legal battle and ultimately Tuesday's decision to reject the city's appeal and conclude that RAMA and the now Granite State Fair do provide an educational forum for the community.
In its appeal the city of Rochester, represented by City Attorney Terence O'Rourke, argued that the fair "did not provide a purpose that is charitable in nature."
In its ruling the high court noted, "Generally, charitable purposes fall into the following categories: (1) relieving poverty; (2) promoting health; (3) advancing education; (4) aiding religion; (5) providing governmental or municipal facilities and services; and (6) other purposes that are beneficial to the community.
"RAMA's restated 1984 articles of incorporation provide that the organization's principal purpose is "[t]o improve and stimulate agricultural and mechanical skills."
The justices agreed that RAMA's purpose falls into the third general category of charitable purposes - advancement of knowledge or education.
The city also argued that the fair is not a charitable act because the public must pay to attend and only 20-25 percent of the fair is agricultural.
The High Court again disagreed with Rochester's appeal, saying that case law showed that "the charge of an admission fee, all of the proceeds of which are used to defray operating expenses, does not alter [an institution's] standing as a charity."
A third argument made by the city was that the fair is not a fair but a "carnival," another notion rejected by the high court and its review of precedent cases.
"The City characterizes the Rochester Fair as a "carnival," Tuesday's ruling reads. "However, the presence of amusements and attractions at the Fair does not negate its charitable purpose. Indeed, amusements and attractions advance RAMA's charitable purpose by exposing a larger audience to the agriculture-related exhibits and displays."
In their summation the justices noted, "We conclude that the City has not shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the BTLA's finding that "[w]hile [RAMA] has shareholders, 7 officers and a board of directors, they are not compensated, no dividends of any type are paid and no income or profits are diverted to them" is unjust or unreasonable. We, therefore, decline the City's invitation to reverse on this ground.
"For the foregoing reasons, the City has not met its burden on appeal. Therefore, the BTLA's decision ruling that the City erred in denying RAMA a charitable tax exemption under RSA 72:23, V is affirmed. We have reviewed the City's remaining arguments and determine that they do not warrant further discussion."
This story will be updated.

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