Thursday, January 26, 2012

Anchorage Baptist Temple Pastor Jerry Prevo Defends His Church's Property Tax Exemptions After Consulting With Two Law Firms

Update July 16th: The Anchorage Assessor has issued a ruling on Anchorage Baptists Temple's property taxes; see updated post HERE.

Another self-proclaimed "community voice" has launched an attack upon Anchorage Baptist Temple Pastor Jerry Prevo over the church's numerous property tax exemptions. Professional sourpuss Elise Patkotak, who's been a bitter and vindictive critic of Prevo in the past, complained on January 24th, 2012 that even if Prevo didn't break the law, "it all just feels sleazy". Typical leftist tactic -- exalt feelings over facts. Patkotak also attempted to equivocate Prevo, who's been married only once and who has never been alleged to commit adultery, with the former serial adulterer Newt Gingrich, currently on his third marriage. Another typical leftist tactic -- erect a straw man. Both tactics straight out of Saul Alinsky's playbook.

But while the Anchorage Daily News has prominently reported on the tax controversy, they have minimized Jerry Prevo's own response to the issue. Fortunately, the Northern Right published a response by Prevo in its entirety on January 17th, 2012. Prevo discloses that when the Anchorage Daily News contacted him in December in preparation for their story, he consulted two different law firms and asked them to examine ABT's tax-exempt properties, determine if the exemptions were proper, and if not, how to make it right.

Both law firms advised ABT they believed the church was in compliance with the law. ADN quoted Kevin Clarkson to that effect, and a letter from Thomas P. Amodio also validates ABT's exemptions. Prevo indicates he is fully cooperating with the municipal tax assessor's office, and will comply with whatever final decision is rendered.

Jerry Prevo believes much of the kerfluffle is inspired by opposition to the fact that he has been a positive and articulate spokesman for traditional family values since the 1970s, fervently opposing the promotion and statutory protection of the homosexual agenda, and led public opposition to Ordinance #64 in 2009. Fueling his suspicion is the fact that although Bent Alaska first publicized the tax issue in August 2011, ADN didn't really start pushing it until January 2012, a mere three months before the municipal election during which voters will get the opportunity to weigh in on a new gay nondiscrimination initiative. Thus the tax issue is being used as a wedge issue to fuel a Yes vote on the initiative. Prevo explains this in the Northern Right:

...It seems this issue comes up about every time "special rights" for homosexuals comes up in our city which is coming up in April. If passed, these "special rights" for homosexuals will take away the rights of religious groups, churches, organizations, businesses, religious people, and individuals.

I have opposed "special rights" for what the Bible calls immoral behavior since the 70's. It seems these recent accusations are again a move to diminish my opposition to these "special rights".

What's ironic is that those who demand that Jerry Prevo and ABT stay out of the discussion on gay rights impose no such demands upon those churches who support the proposed gay initiative. Four local churches are involved; St. Mary's Episcopal, United Methodist, Immanuel Presbyterian and Joy Lutheran. Yet no one, including Jerry Prevo himself, questions their tax exemptions or their right to engage publicly in social advocacy without forfeiting tax exemptions. The bottom line: Either it's O.K. for ALL churches to engage in public issue advocacy -- or NONE of them. The only restriction upon churches is against endorsing specific candidates from the pulpit.

It is legal for Anchorage Baptist Temple, like any other entity, to take advantage of property tax exemptions. It is also legal for Anchorage Baptist Temple, like any other entity, to lobby for additional tax exemptions. Consequently, those who still have an issue with these exemptions are best advised to direct their attention towards those who granted or enable the exemptions; namely, the Municipality of Anchorage and the Alaska State Legislature. The Anchorage Assembly exercises control over local taxes, and it was the legislature which passed HB334 in 2006, which broadened the scope of the exemption to include religious school teachers and ordained ministers who run ministries. Those who object to the exemptions should contact their local assembly member to express those objections, and contact their state representative or senator to advocate for repeal of HB334.

The best solution:

-- Limit property tax exemptions for churches to the primary church complex and the senior pastor's residence.
-- Provide an appeal process so churches can apply for additional tax exemptions as desired.
-- Grandfather ABT's remaining exemptions to leave them in force as long as the present occupants live in the properties. Once the present occupants leave, the properties would be placed back on the tax rolls.

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