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Richmond County tax assessors scrutinize tax-exempt property uses

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Owners of tax-exempt properties might have to justify those exemptions this year, according to the Richmond County Board of Tax Assessors.

The board has begun to take a close look at property tax exemptions to determine whether owners are using properties in ways that qualify, Chief Appraiser Alveno Ross said.

Ross said the examination of tax-exempt properties is the final piece of a “full digest review” undertaken by his office to ensure that all properties are accounted for, properly categorized and assessed.

Ross said the intent is to review every parcel that doesn’t produce any property tax. That’s more than 2,600 parcels and more than $2 billion in total assessed property values, he said.

Board of Assessors member Bryan Simkins said the panel is working on a plan that might include asking property owners to reapply for their exemptions.

“It is going to be across the board,” Simkins said. “We are going to ask them to reassess what they have and tell us how they operate and why they should be tax exempt.”

A large number of those affected – almost 1,100 parcels valued at more than $828 million – belong to churches, other religious organizations and other nonprofit groups.

Ross said many of the exemptions have been on the books for years without any examination of how the property is used, which is a primary factor in determining whether a property should be exempt.

“When the laws were written in 1933 they didn’t really envision all the things churches do today,” Ross said.

For example, if a church owns rental property or a restaurant that produces income, that property might no longer qualify for a tax exemption. Nonprofits, or so-called 501(c)(3) organizations, that own income-producing property could be affected as well, Ross said.

Having a federal 501(c)(3) designation normally exempts such groups from income tax.

“But that doesn’t necessarily qualify you to be exempt from property tax,” he said.

Tim Mirshak, an attorney and board member for Villa Marie Apartments, which has ties to the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, said he feels confident the property will maintain its exempt status whatever the test.

“We are akin to properties operated by Augusta Housing Authority, but with a different sponsor,” said Mirshak, who explained that Villa Marie’s mission was to provide quality low-income housing. The apartments are owned by Caritas Corp., an independent, nonprofit organization that does not share revenue or debt with the diocese, Mirshak said.

Any change in the property tax status could harm the charitable mission, he said.

“If we had a substantial tax bill it would materially impact our ability to provide the quality of low-income housing we provide right now,” Mirshak said.

Board of Assessors attorney Jim Plunkett said board members are evaluating the best way to proceed. He expects there will be controversy, especially if a church is in danger of losing an exemption.

The board already re-examines such properties when they are brought to its attention. Recently it revoked tax exemptions on four parcels owned by Hale Street Baptist Church. The board determined that the church had moved and the exemptions no longer applied, according to minutes from its May 14 meeting.

Of the thousands of exempt parcels, however, Plunkett expects the majority will retain the designation.

“I think at the end of the day there will be a very small percentage that is improperly categorized,” he said.

Whatever the process, the goal is to be uniform and fair, Simkins said.

“We are not picking on anybody, but it is a matter of getting everyone on an equal plane,” he said.

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No_Longer_Amazed
5143
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 06/16/12 - 08:38 pm
11
0
"getting everyone on an equal plane” he said.

...and I say lets get everyone on an equal plane when it comes to water/sewage billing and solid waste fees - I see no reason that county residents should be subsidizing the old City of Augusta residents.

jpbrig
147
Points
jpbrig 06/16/12 - 06:56 pm
1
8
water/ sewage rates

water and sewage rates are the same for everyone. It been that way for years. Get your facts right.

Conservative Man
5314
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Conservative Man 06/16/12 - 07:31 pm
12
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Tax exempt status.

Far too many churches own properties that are tax exempt.
My opinion is that if it's not a part of the sanctuary, or part of a pastor's residence the church should pay property taxes just like the rest of us.
In my neighborhood there are three of four churches that own MULTIPLE buildings (in some cases nearly the whole street) that have absolutely nothing to do with their ministry and they are tax exempt.
I'm a Christian and am all for giving the "church" all the benefits due it, by the Constitution, but when they are able to get tax exempt status for EVERY building?...there has to be a rethinking of this policy....

eb97
835
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eb97 06/16/12 - 08:04 pm
10
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Well stated Conservative Man.

Well stated Conservative Man. I believe many agree with you on this one.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
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No_Longer_Amazed 06/16/12 - 08:24 pm
5
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jpb, I guess you should know!

Thank you for correcting me on the water rates. However, what is your response to my comment on the solid waste fees?

InChristLove
22420
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InChristLove 06/16/12 - 09:24 pm
3
5
Conservative Man, "In my

Conservative Man, "In my neighborhood there are three of four churches that own MULTIPLE buildings (in some cases nearly the whole street) that have absolutely nothing to do with their ministry and they are tax exempt."

I don't know what neighborhood you live in and which churches you are referring to, but are you sure these multiple buildings are not used for their ministry. I'm curious, if a church has alternative buildings to hold Wednesday night services, which are fewer in number, so that money is saved on not having to cool/heat and electricity needed for a larger sanctuary, do you feel this building is not part of the church ministry and should be taxed. What about a building used to counsel teens or used for weekday bible classes, or fellowship meetings for Sunday school teacher training? These buildings are not part of the santuary or a part of the pastor residence but I totally disagree they are not part of the church ministry.

I understand that not all churches are on the up and up and some may have property which they "claim" is part of the church when it is not and have no problem with re-evaluating them, but I'm just curious as to your exact meaning in your comment.

dichotomy
30827
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dichotomy 06/16/12 - 10:09 pm
6
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YES, take a hard look at tax

YES, take a hard look at tax exempt property....every parcel.

"However, what is your response to my comment on the solid waste fees?"

I'd like an answer to that one too.....especially now that they want us to pay double what it should cost.

Riverman1
79823
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Riverman1 06/17/12 - 12:04 am
10
0
Churches are not supposed to

Churches are not supposed to become involved in politics if they want to keep their tax exempt status. Heh...good luck with that.

dwb3080
15
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dwb3080 06/17/12 - 01:05 am
4
0
12 Augusta Ct

Check out this parcel #
Parcel 046-3-512-00-0
another apartment building paying no taxes, are they collecting rent?
Trustee lives in DC

jpbrig
147
Points
jpbrig 06/17/12 - 07:39 am
2
1
solid waste fees

N_L_A

the old city pays more taxes. the old county pays more fees. they should be the same but are not. there is no will to make them the same.

InChristLove
22420
Points
InChristLove 06/17/12 - 08:37 am
1
0
dwb3080, I was curious so I

dwb3080, I was curious so I checked out 12 Augusta Ct. to the best of my limited know-how to see the interest in this property. I discovered that there isn't a 12 Augusta Court (that I could fine) but there is a 1200 Augusta Ct. which is a parking lot. There are some apartments located at number like 1258 or 1269 which appear to be low income housing but I haven't been able to locate the name of the owner. I'm assuming you are claiming these apartments belong to a religious entity whom do not pay property tax on them? Would you care to give us more facts, like who the property is owned by?

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 06/17/12 - 09:40 am
0
0
tax exempt status
Unpublished

I personally believe that churches should no longer be allowed tax exempt status. Most operate just like a business and the sanctuary's get bigger and bigger. On a different note, in the story of the man and woman caught at the Evans movie theater having sex... the man is living in a house in West Lake, possibly with his mom and dad who are also ministers.... is that house owned by their church as well? I've personally seen how some "churches" are only there for tax exempt status- just a way to take and hide church members money. I did some business with a start-up "church" outside of Atlanta and had to go to their location. When I found it, it was a massive 4 or 5 bedroom 3 story home out in the country- probably a half million dollar home. Apparently they'd have bible meetings in the home's den until they could build the actual church, but the pastor and his extended family were living the GOOD life.

allhans
23298
Points
allhans 06/17/12 - 11:51 am
4
0
My bill from Augusta

My bill from Augusta Utilities is, as a rule, around $20.00 for 3,000gals of of water with about an $18.00 sewer charge, making a total charge of about $38.00. This is in West Augusta. I have no idea why others would pay a different rate.

I agree that there are some buildings belonging to churches that maybe should be taxed.
I know.."it's an educational building", etc. but it calls for a review of property assessments.

JRC2024
8093
Points
JRC2024 06/17/12 - 01:11 pm
2
1
Parcel 046-3-512-00-0This is

Parcel 046-3-512-00-0
This is property owned by the church with the preacher that was called Daddy Grace. The main church in Augusta is on Wrightsboro Rd with the gold, purple and blue roof. There is also another one on Tobacco Rd. The big house behind the church is where the preacher stays when in Augusta. The name of the church is The House of Prayer and it is across
the street from Beula Grove Baptist. The resturant that the church operates and is open to the public is good. Try it sometime.The resturant operated by the church across from The Augusta National is also good and open to the public every day and so is their book store.

InChristLove
22420
Points
InChristLove 06/17/12 - 02:42 pm
1
1
JRC, not familiar with this

JRC, not familiar with this "church" but I do believe I know the place you speak about on Tobacco Road. If a church is running a restuarant, unless it's a soup kitchen feeding the poor, I don't think that would have much to do with the work of Christ and should be taxed as any other business for profit. Don't suppose the book store is operating for free either. Why hasn't government been taxing these places if it is apparent that they are businesses and not part of the church ministry?

InChristLove
22420
Points
InChristLove 06/17/12 - 02:47 pm
1
2
It is beyond me why people

It is beyond me why people give thumbs down for a comment that is asking for an explanation, agreeing that religious property that is not being used for the church ministry should be taxed, and making a comment that other buildings except the santuary and pastor's residence can be used for religious purposes, but if it makes your day, go for it. Some people will disagree even if you are agreeing with them, just to be disagreeable.

Conservative Man
5314
Points
Conservative Man 06/18/12 - 03:36 pm
1
0
In Christ, the particular

In Christ, the particular church I'm speaking of uses the properties to house people who are in recovery or are "in between homes' while they search for other housing.
Again the Christian in me says great. The church is helping those less fortunate. But to say the church should not pay property taxes on buildings that are not used for directly ministering to the "flock" or for the use of the Pastor? As I said earlier, this policy should be revisited.....

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