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Feb 01 2014

Rendering Unto Caesar

A little-known sacrament, hidden from view,
But it’s there if you happen to search…
Is the sacred ability—really, God’s right—
For a renter to park at a church.

The law is the law, and the rule is the rule,
Though enforcement has been, well, relaxed…
For over a decade, they’ve taken in money
But this year, their profits are… taxed!

University parking is scarce as can be;
The demand far outstrips the supply
Local businesses often will lease out some spots—
If they’re taxed, they don’t often ask why.

But churches are used to more delicate treatment
They’re not just a business, their business is God’s
And churches, of course, enjoy tax-exempt status—
It’s not like the faithful are frauds!

The church provides parking, on tax-exempt land,
That sits empty the rest of the week
So it’s “render to Caesar”, and time to pay up,
The end of their non-paying streak

They’re grudgingly paying their taxes this year;
The power of Christ can’t compel—
I still have a question they don’t want to hear:
Can we sue for back taxes as well?

Oh, the little things that show up in my aggregator! A couple of churches had been renting out parking spaces in a university town, and are shocked–shocked, I tell you–to receive a tax bill for their commercial and non-religious enterprise.

Two churches in downtown Durham that rent parking spaces to students and other motorists received an unpleasant surprise last year: A property tax bill.

Leaders of St. George’s Episcopal Church and Community Church of Durham say they’ve leased parking spaces for more than a decade without issue. Both plan to challenge the $2,737 assessment.

Ten years of windfall profits! If they didn’t expect to be taxed, they couldn’t have been making much money from them–as churches, this was probably very nearly a charity, right?

Durham Tax Assessor Jim Rice discovered last year the churches were not being taxed for the parking leases. At the time, he said, each church leased 30 spaces for $600 each.

Rice set the value of each church parking lot at $90,000. Based on that figure, the churches owed $2,737 for the 2013 tax year. Both have paid the tax bills.

“For whatever reason, they were never assessed in the past,” Rice said of the church lots. “There is no reason the taxes should not have been assessed.”

Other non-profits in town are taxed when they profit from leasing property–including another church that leases office space. No persecution here, just a case of presumed privilege, and an assumption that the rules don’t apply.

Frankly, ten years worth of back taxes would likely help the town… I doubt very much that they will go after the money, though. Even if it is legal, it will be viewed as attacking churches.

2 comments

  1. 1
    eddarrell

    Here in church-friendly Texas, I know several churches who have profit-making enterprises on church property — including our congregation. It’s well established that those enterprises are businesses, not part of the non-profit work, and therefore taxable. Property taxes, hospital taxes, school taxes, community college taxes, we pay ‘em all, happily and proudly. If we know about this stuff in Texas, can we really believe they don’t know about it in the Carolinas?

  2. 2
    richardelguru

    Church property and profits should be taxed, just like any other form of entertainment.

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