Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Help Me Howard: Church Taxes
Running a church or temple can be expensive, but they do get one break, they don't have to pay property taxes or do they? One South Florida church is getting a tax bill, and since they can't afford it, they are afraid their church is going to be taken from them, which is why they called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- In 1969 a young preacher by the name of Ralph Seays started building this church in Broward County.
Dee Houston: "He worked a full time job and worked evenings and weekends until he got it completed. He and a couple of the deacons."
Forty-two years later, Prince of Peace Baptist Church is still here. Rev. Seays is a little older, he doesn't preach on Sundays anymore, but it's still his church.
Rev. Ralph Seays, Church Founder: "I don't know how you put it, but what God give you, he give you. No man can take it away."
No man can take away this small baptist church, but the County sure can.
Dee Houston: "When I got involved in it I said we can't let this happen. We can't lose our sanctuary, we just can't lose our sanctuary."
Dee Houston is Rev. Seays' daughter, who recently got involved in the church's finances and discovered they were being hit with property tax bills.
Dee Houston: "We approached the matter as, well let's pay it and fight. Pay it and fight and that's what we did."
Since churches and temples are exempt from property taxes, the trustees thought their tax exempt status would be restored quickly, year after year it was not.
Dee Houston: "And we filled out every form that the tax offices makes. We filled them all out and just when we think we are done, we get another bill."
The years the church was able to pay the tax bill, but by 2008 and 2009 it totaled $24,000 and the church didn't have that money.
Dee Houston: "It's unbelievable and unattainable. We can't sell that much chicken or fish or peanuts or popsicles to make $24,000. It ain't gonna happen."
In 2010 Dee finally got the mistake corrected. Broward County restored the church's tax exempt status, but the unpaid tax certificates totaling $24,000 were sold to investors, who legally can now seize the church. Dee says they are literally praying for help.
Dee Houston: "That's my prayer, that we can be forgiven. The taxes that are currently delinquent and we can move forward."
Well Howard, a mistake was made, a church had to pay property taxes. Can they get that money back?
Howard Finkelstein: "A church definitely has tax exempt status, but only if they take the steps to achieve it. If they do and the County makes a mistake, they can probably get some of their money back. If it's the church's fault they are probably out of luck."
To say this was complicated would be a massive understatement, but Lori Parrish at the property appraisers office and Tomie Coates at the tax collectors office dug through their records.
Lori says the mistakes were made by the church. That no one applied for tax exempt status as far back as her records went.
And Tomie dug back to 1982 and showed us the church was paying property taxes as far back as 1982. Apparently the church never had the tax exempt status that was available to them, and since it appears it was the church's fault, the mistake cannot be corrected, meaning the tax deeds could be sold and the church seized.
Howard Finkelstein: "If the church can raise $24,000 plus interest they have the right to buy back the tax certificates. If they don't find the money, the certificates will be sold at auction and the winning bidder takes over the property."
It's a frightening thought for a father and daughter, but they just don't believe they will see their church destroyed.
Dee Houston: "Do you think for one minute that God will let us lose our church? I don't think so."
People said he couldn't build a church 42 years ago. Maybe Rev. Seays knows something and the church has a few months to get this taken care of. We are putting them in touch with a few people to give them some options to help them save Prince of Peace.
Got no prayer of solving your problem? Need some help from above? Our offices are on the second floor, so contact us. We don't preach to the choir, but we do devote ourselves to a lawbook.