Church members beg county board for tax abatement
By STEPH TAHTINEN
Mt. Pleasant News
When Dr. Alfred Savage came before the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning, he compared his visit to Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawshank Redemption,” making a repeat appearance before the parole board. But instead of seeking reprieve for himself, Dr. Savage was seeking a tax abatement for Grace Community Friends Church.
“We don’t demand an abatement. We don’t ask for an abatement. I beg for an abatement,” said Dr. Savage.
Tuesday morning was the second time that Grace Community Friends Church has asked for tax abatement on its new property, the former Owl’s Nest property on East Henry Street. The church made its first request last October, and supervisor Marc Lindeen and then-supervisor Kent White voted against the abatement. Now, with a new board of supervisors in place — Greg Moeller has replaced White — the church has asked the supervisors to reconsider its request.
“I ask you not to vote on this issue with your head that says Henry County always needs more money,” said Pastor Deb Savage. “I ask you to vote the spirit of the law as set forth by the founding fathers.”
That law, argued Deb Savage, was that churches should not be taxed so as not to overburden them as the church assists the community in many different ways.
Paying the $6,850 in taxes due on March 1 will overburden the church, the Savages argued.
“This $6,850 will bankrupt the Grace Community Friends Church,” said Dr. Savage, who provided the supervisors with a treasurer’s report from the church, showing only $4,557.04 available in November 2012. “This will break the church.”
The situation Grace Community Friends Church finds itself in is unusual, noted Attorney Jeff Thomas of Bainter and Thomas, speaking on behalf of the church.
“It’s not something that happens everyday,” said Thomas. “This only comes up when a non-profit buys a property from a for profit and it’s after the end of the year.”
Property taxes are assessed on July 1. On July 1, 2011, the property was owned by the former Owl’s Nest — a for-profit entity — and was assessed accordingly. Grace Community Friends Church then purchased the property in December 2011. At that point, the property was owned by Pilot Grove Savings Bank, which helped pay the taxes due in October 2012. Grace Friends Church paid $609 of that $6,850.
“We thought we were done, so you can see how shocked we were to receive a bill of almost $7,000,” said Deb Savage.
As the church is a non-profit entity, it is not usually taxed. The church has filed the paperwork so it will not be taxed in the future, noted Thomas, but meanwhile there is still $6,850 owed to Henry County.
“It’s just this one installment that got certified on the books,” said Thomas.
The board of supervisors does have the power to abate these taxes so that the church does not have to pay them. However, noted Chairman Gary See, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the topic can only be resurrected by one of the people who voted against it in the previous vote.
“Marc is the only one who can bring it up to be resurrected,” said See, as White is no longer on the board.
“There have been some other points brought forth here, and I would like to think about it,” said Lindeen.
As the discussion item was on the agenda for reconsideration — not an item to be voted on — if Lindeen chooses to bring it to a vote, it will need to be on a future agenda.
In other business the supervisors:
• Heard a weekly update from County Engineer Bill Belzer.
• Heard budget presentations from County Attorney Darin Stater and Planning and Zoning Administrator Joe Buffington.
• Appointed Andrea Cook as deputy auditor.
• Appointed sheriff deputies Dan Wesely, Garrett Cargill, Jason Sutton, Dean Walter, Randal Veldboom, Tracy Brooks, Chad Doak and Branden Marquardt and reserve deputies Larry Duckett, Mike Garmoe, Robert Huddleston and Bert Izzard.