Tisbury assessors are standing by a decision to deny tax-exempt status to the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse for the first time in its 36 years, saying the theatre’s mission does not meet the legal definition of a “benevolent” use.

As a result of the vote, which took place in July, when town property tax bills go out sometime before the end of the year, the playhouse will be liable to pay some $7,800 in taxes on an assessed valuation of roughly $875,000 a year on its Church street theatre facility.

Leaders at the nonprofit playhouse have vowed to appeal the decision, saying the vote by assessors was arbitrary and unexpected and will cause financial hardship.

“They seem to be looking for reasons to show that we are not a charitable organization,” said playhouse board president Arnie Reisman.

The theatre has been operating under a 501c3 tax-exempt status with the town and the state since 1982 and has not been subject to property tax since taking ownership of its facility in 1993.

“We have canvassed Massachusetts and can find no other theatre being taxed like this. We struggle to make our annual budget, and this tax will inflict a large burden on us,” wrote playhouse treasurer Gerald Yukevich in a letter to the editor that is published in today’s edition.

But assessors said the decision came as part of a top-to-bottom review of all tax-exempt organizations in town — including the playhouse — that began late last year.

In addition to the playhouse, at least four other charitable organizations were also put back on the Tisbury town tax rolls this summer: Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, Sail Martha’s Vineyard, the Vineyard Montessori School and the MV Center for Living, records show.

Those organizations lost their tax exempt status because they did not respond to a request for information that went out in December 2017 with a required response date of March 1, 2018, assessors said.

The playhouse did respond to the request for information but later was denied status on the merits, assistant assessor Ann Marie Cywinski told the Gazette.

“The board of assessors reviewed the [playhouse] application on July 11 and determined they no longer qualify for the exemption because they don’t meet the benevolent piece of the mission,” she said.

The chairman of the board of assessors, Angela Cywinski, elaborated further:

“One of the criteria for benevolence is — is it for education or providing a service the government can’t provide? They have an education program in theatre and we wanted details of all that . . . but they couldn’t give us the details. Their mission statement says their primary objective is to promote live theatre productions. I couldn’t find anything in the statute that said live theatre was a benevolent use,” she said.

Angela Cywinski, who is an elected member of the Tisbury board of assessors, is related by marriage to Ann Marie Cywinski. She is also an assistant assessor herself, for the town of Aquinnah.

The playhouse was informed of the July 11 decision in a letter from the assessors dated Sept. 25. “Nonprofit status is not sufficient . . . The organization must be organized for charitable purposes and must actually operate as a public charity. Its dominant purposes and activities must benefit the public at large, not just a limited group of people,” the letter said in part.

Playhouse executive director MJ Munafo responded with an email asking to meet with the assessors, but was told there is no recourse except to go through the formal appeal process.

Ann Marie Cywinski said this week that once the playhouse receives its tax bill, it can appeal the decision no later than Feb. 1, 2019, at 4:30 p.m.

Angela Cywinski said the playhouse has the option to appeal directly to the state appellate tax board if it chooses.

The chairman of the assessors also said she is not without compassion for the playhouse but is bound to follow the law.

“Do I like denying public charities? No,” she said. “I do believe they [the playhouse] do public good and I know this is an emotional issue. But as an assessor I can’t look at emotion, I have to look at the law.” She added: “We asked for the information to complete the application process and it didn’t come.”

By contrast, Ms. Cywinski said Richard Paradise at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society went out of his way to provide the assessors with documentation. “I was bordering on a vote to deny [the film society]. . . but he brought in information and that changed my mind. He was very in tune with the process,” she said.

The assessor’s office, asked by Gazette under a public records request for all relevant meeting minutes for the past year, provided some but not all, saying some were incomplete or still in draft form.

Available minutes and email correspondence provided by the assessors show that on Dec. 8, 2017, a letter went out by email to some 31 tax-exempt organizations. “This year the board of assessors will be doing a compliance with each of our exempt organizations for auditing reasons . . . we will be requesting additional documentation from everyone,” the email said in part.

Between May and July 2018, the assessors engaged in extra scrutiny of some 34 tax-exempt organizations in town, available minutes show. Most were granted tax-exempt status, but some were not.

Angela Cywinski acknowledged the problems with the minutes and said she had been informed by the town administrator that the board should change the way it keeps its meeting records.

“Minutes aren’t complete, that is a little embarrassing and I will agree to that,” Ms. Cywinski said. “That is a lesson we have learned.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Reisman said the playhouse will appeal the ruling and had learned its own lessons from the experience.

“It’s clear to us that the assessors don’t understand what we do,” he said. “I feel like we are being taxed for being an elitist luxury. But if the initial intent was to find money, it’s going to backfire because now it is going to cost everyone. A lot of this could have been avoided if they would have allowed us to walk in there and have a hearing.”