A timing problem with a new megachurch in Springettsbury Township might cost it $56,735 in property taxes this year.
Lancaster County Bible Church, which moved into a former Saturn dealership and had its first service in March, has appealed its assessment and is in dispute with York County over whether it should pay taxes on its $2.2 million property for 2012, according to the York County Department of Assessment and Tax Claim.
Churches are exempt from paying property taxes, but are subject to guidelines that determine when the tax-exempt status is granted.
The church made the August 2011 deadline by which it had to file for a religious institution tax exemption for 2012. But the law also required the church to have held a service last year before it can be exempt from taxes for 2012, said York County Solicitor Mike Flannelly, but LCBC held its first service in March.
"Exemptions kick in when the property is used for the purposes of the institution, which basically means in this particular instance, church services," he said. "We've done this consistently in York County and will continue until somebody in a black robe tells us not to."
He said he believes the church, which lost an assessment appeal on April 17, will challenge the law in the Court of Common Pleas.
Bigger problem: The advance planning on exemptions is necessary
to give municipalities ample time to prepare budgets for the coming year without, for example, a $50,000 deficit in tax income, said E. John Fedor, director of assessment/chief assessor for York County.
Fedor said the church is one example of officials' growing frustration with shrinking tax rolls as property values have dwindled during the recession as people appealed their assessments.
Contributing to the problem is the money lost when tax-exempt organizations move into commercial spaces, he said.
In this case, York Suburban School District stands to lose the most, $45,538 of the property's tax bill per year. The township will lose $1,937 when the property comes off the tax rolls, and the county will lose $9,242, based on current millage rates.
Bill growing: Jay King, a commercial and industrial assessor with York County, said the former Saturn dealership is a high-value property, but all properties are subject to the law and it is applied the same for everyone.
"It's pretty clear-cut," he said. "It's the way it goes for everybody. You spent millions on your property ... why not pay a fair share to the municipalities and the school district before you remove (the property) from the tax book for eternity?"
King said the church's bill is probably going to grow about 25 percent higher than the $56,735, based on a reassessment of property improvements he started after the church lost its assessment appeal.
The 10,000-member church paid $3.2 million for the car dealership, 951 North Hills Road, in July 2010.
It spent about $8 million on renovations to create the state-of-the-art facility, said John Zeswitz, executive director of ministries, two months ago when the church was preparing for its first service.
He did not return multiple calls for comment about the assessment issue.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5436, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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