An assistant pastor at Anchorage Baptist Temple says if the city wants to start taxing certain property of his church, it should consider collecting money on other, similar land too -- say, the president's house at Alaska Pacific University, or nun housing at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
City assessor Marty McGee said he's been thinking the same thing. McGee has talked to the Baptist Temple about dropping tax exemption for six church-owned properties, he said. But he's also investigating whether other groups that have housing exemptions should start paying property taxes too. No decisions on the Baptist Temple, hospital or APU land have been made yet, he said.
Glenn Clary, the Baptist Temple assistant pastor and treasurer for the Republican Party of Alaska, has e-mailed lawmakers urging them to support a bill that would bar the city from collecting taxes on church-owned teacher housing (proposed SB193). The church currently pays no property taxes on the housing (see my previous blog entry, Anchorage Baptist Temple Sweetheart Bill Goes Forward, dated 13 March 2006, for details on SB193).
Clary charged discrimination against the Baptist Temple by the city, and hinted that if the laws don't change, the city may face a lawsuit. If rewriting the law fails, Clary said Monday, "Where else do I go, except the court system?"
McGee said no one group is being singled out by the municipality. What Clary's protesting is a roughly two-year effort by the city to re-evaluate whether certain property should still be tax exempt. Land that the Baptist Temple owns and uses to house teachers or educators could be added to the tax rolls this year.
Pastor Clary has a case; focusing on ABT and disregarding similar ambiguities at Providence and APU appears discriminatory. The original intent and purpose of property tax exemptions for religious organizations was to exempt the church building itself and the pastor's residence. Completely exempting janitor's residences, teacher's residences, nunneries, or the president's house on a religious campus far exceeds the original intent and purpose of the concept.
This does not preclude the possibility of a separate class of religious support buildings paying a lower property tax rate. This option could also be extended to non-political charitable organizations. I could envision a separate category consisting of ABT teachers' residences, the Providence nunnery, the APU president's house, the American Red Cross Building, the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission facility, the Brother Francis Shelter, and all similar organizations. However, these organizations or facilities are support functions; they are not directly religious in nature, and so it is appropriate for them to pay some property taxes. The category could be labelled "Religious Support Facilities and Non-Profit Charitable Facilities".
The only fair and equitable way to deal with this to the satisfaction of all religious organizations is to pass a law exempting only a church and the pastor's residence from all property taxation.