• Is a campground owned and operated by an association of churches exempt from property taxes? Yes, concluded a Georgia state appeals court in an important ruling. The Atlanta Baptist Association owns a 640-acre campground that contains various improvements including worship facilities, a dining hall, cabins, meeting rooms, a swimming pool, and ball fields. About one-third of the property is undeveloped, but is used for nature walks, outdoor Bible studies, and prayer. All of the structures were financed by church contributions. While user fees are charged for use of the facilities, they are not enough to cover operating expenses, and the deficit is made up of subsidies provided by the Atlanta Baptist Association. The facilities are used exclusively by adult and youth church groups of various denominations. The Association requires that each group conduct a religious program during its stay, and it “previews” each program to ensure that scheduled events include “worship and knowledge of God, Bible study, and prayer.” Recreational activities, such as swimming and softball, are regularly incorporated into such programs. A county tax assessor attempted to tax the entire 640-acre campground (arguing that the facility was operated primarily as an income-producing recreational facility), and the Association appealed to a local court that ruled in favor of the Association. A state appeals court upheld the ruling of the trial court, and affirmed the exempt status of the campground under a state law exempting properties used as a “place of religious worship.” The court concluded that “the evidence establishes without dispute that religious activities are an integral part of every aspect of the use of the property. Although the recreational facilities which are provided to visitors are secular in nature, their use was shown to be intimately connected and intertwined with the religious activities to which the property is primarily dedicated. The fact that visitors are charged feeds which are applied towards the operating expenses of the facility does not alter its fundamentally religious character. In light of the foregoing authorities, and on the basis of the uncontroverted evidence in the present case, we hold that the trial court did not err in concluding as a matter of law that the property was exempt from taxation as a place of religious worship.” Pickens County Board of Tax Assessors v. Atlanta Baptist Association, Inc., 381 S.E.2d 419 (Ga. App. 1989).
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