$7 Million Tax Bill • Harvest Accusations • D.C. Water Rate: News Roundup
    This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
    $7 Million Tax Bill • Harvest Accusations • D.C. Water Rate: News Roundup

    Miami church hit with $7 million tax bill. “The First Presbyterian Church of Miami, the oldest organized congregation in the city, has been hit with a $7.1 million tax bill by the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, which claims the church has leased a portion of church grounds to a for-profit school and food trucks, violating its religious exemption status. The church, located at 609 Brickell Ave., has run a K-8 religious school on the property since 2008. The bill comprises a tax lien totaling $6.5 million (including interest and fines) for the years 2009–2017 and a current bill of $509,526.24 for the 2018 year. The taxes only apply to the portions of the property deemed to be in violation of the exemption, between 29–35 percent, depending on the year. According to Florida Statute 196.196, only the portions of a property that are used predominantly for charitable, religious, scientific, or literary purposes can be deemed exempt from taxation” (“The ‘ultimate nightmare scenario’ for this historic Miami church: A $7 million tax bill”).

    Accusations of financial mismanagement and spiritual abuse hit Harvest Bible Chapel. “Five years ago, Harvest Bible Chapel, a Chicago-area megachurch with multiple campuses and an average weekly attendance exceeding 12,000, sent shock waves through the Christian community when it publicly excommunicated two former elders and indirectly censured a third. The edict was news beyond Chicago because James MacDonald is Harvest’s pastor: His Walk in the Word radio and TV ministry reaches millions weekly. Harvest also is home to Vertical Worship, Vertical Church Films, Vertical Church Network, and Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin, Ill., and Camp Harvest in Newaygo, Mich. What many didn’t know at the time was that the September 2013 surprise came just 24 hours after eight former elders—including longtime board chairman Dave Corning—sent a strongly worded letter to the remaining elder board. The letter stated that 2 Timothy 3:1-5 lists nearly 20 traits that disqualify a person from being a pastor or elder, and “it is our opinion that these apply substantially to James” (“Hard times at Harvest,” World Magazine).

    District of Columbia changes course on water rate for churches. “D.C. officials have backed away from a proposal that would have made it easier for churches to qualify for a break on their water rates than other nonprofits, after critics said the policy could have been unconstitutional. The city is instead moving forward with a plan that would allow religious and secular nonprofits to qualify for the same discount on water rates. Opponents of the earlier measure said they were satisfied with the new approach. ‘This is a great resolution,’ said D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who wrote a letter to the D.C. Water board saying the previous policy may have violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which limits government action that unduly favors religion. The policy was changed to avoid any delays in the relief program that could result from legal challenges, said Matt Johnson, an environmental protection specialist who worked on the proposals at the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment” (“D.C. backs away from special water rate relief for churches,” The Washington Post).

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    Samuel Ogles is associate editor and special project manager for Church Law & Tax.

    This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

    Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.


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