The Independence Law Center filed this case because county officials were forcing a church to pay taxes on their entire property and building as if they were a for-profit corporation – something no church should have to do. The result: a big win, which means that rather than paying unjust taxes in the tens of thousands of dollars, those funds can go directly to advancing the church’s mission.
Pennsylvania law states that churches and other actual places of regularly stated religious worship and the grounds necessary for their use, occupation and enjoyment are excluded from county, municipal, and school property taxes. However, churches must file documentation with the county assessor’s office so the county can assess what part of the land or buildings may or may not be necessary for their use and therefore subject to taxation.
Calvary Chapel of Stroudsburg diligently went to their assessors office prior to the purchase of their property but were wrongly turned away and prevented from filing the “appeal” for tax exemption. They returned, a mere 14 days after they closed on the property, and were told they missed a deadline for filing such appeals by 2 days. The county never informed them of this deadline. Furthermore, the church had diligently come to file papers 2 weeks after closing even though they never even received a tax bill…because the county had sent it to the previous owner!
Despite the church’s diligence, and given the County’s own errors and omissions, the County informed them they would treat them as a for-profit corporation for an entire additional year, subjecting them to taxes that were equivalent to one employee’s salary.
The church contacted the Independence Law Center, who appealed the Assessor’s Office’s decision to the Monroe County Board of Assessment Revision. The Board denied the claim, and ruled that Calvary Chapel of Stroudsburg should pay taxes on both its building and its land for an additional year, and after that, would only be tax exempt for its building and a portion of their parking lot, or roughly 1 acre.
ILC appealed that decision to the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas, and the judge ruled in favor of the church. The judge determined the church exercised due diligence and should have been permitted to file its tax exempt documents and that the church should have been given the entire parking lot as well as additional acreage which is regularly used for outdoor religious activities.
The trial judge ruled in our client’s favor. The county will refund the thousands of dollars in overpaid taxes, revise the tax invoices for the current year to treat the buildings as completely tax exempt, and will cease taxing over 4 acres of the church’s property going forward. To put it in context, this means that rather than paying an unjust tax, those funds can go directly to advancing the church’s mission to preach the Gospel.
Our Role in this Case
The Independence Law Center represented Calvary Chapel in its appeal to the Monroe County Board of Assessment and in the subsequent trial in the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas.