April 4 Meeting
Thirty pastors and church representatives met at First Baptist Church of Louisville in Stark County on April 4, 2006.
The churches represented were from Stark, Tuscarawas, Wayne, Summit, and Morgan counties.
We met with State Representative John Hagan, Judge Jim James and Muskingum Watershed Conservatory District representative Darrin Lautenschleger. Hagan and James both serve the Stark County area. In addition to these men, Floyd spoke with Representative Allan Sayre (Tuscarawas county) later in the same day.
The pastors and others in attendance expressed their concerns that the proposed MWCD tax assessment violates the tax exempt status of churches that has been a part of the U.S. and Ohio since the founding of our country and state. They spoke to the concern that this assessment would open the door to many more future assessments. Questions were asked as to the scope and methodology of the assessment, the potential for future increases in the assessment, the issue of taxation without representation, and the inequities of the assessments. Concerns were expressed as to the lack of publicity involved in this assessment plan and the number of churches and individuals who will be caught by surprise when they receive their tax bills.
Here is a summary of the important points.
1) The assessment has not yet been approved by the judges. That decision will be made in July.
2) The law states that the benefit must exceed the cost of the assessment. Here is an important point that ought to require further examination. How can MWCD say that high elevation properties benefit from the assessment? How can it be said that Stark County would benefit from the assessment since there are no flood control dams that help Stark County and all of the water would naturally go downstream to other counties?
3) Ohio revised code differentiates between a tax and an assessment. Just because a property is tax exempt doesn't mean it is assessment exempt.
4) The seventy plus year old Ohio law that created the watershed districts doesn't have a provision for exempting churches or non profits.
5) Other watershed districts in the State of Ohio have been assessing churches and non profits for many years so the precedent has already been set. There is, however, some question as to whether they assess in the same manner that MWCD is proposing.
6) The judges cannot change these decisions. They must simply uphold the law. The decision to exempt churches would have to come from the Ohio Legislature.
7) Once the judges approve the assessment the rest is out of their hands. MWCD will have, essentially, free reign to do what they please with the monies and will have the right to increase the assessments up to the benefit amount.
8) If the Ohio Legislature chooses to make exemptions for the MWCD, those changes in the Ohio code would also affect the other watershed districts in the state.
9) It is possible for the Ohio Legislature to change the laws that govern the watershed districts but the Senators and Representatives from the counties in the MWCD would have to convince the majority of the Ohio Legislators from other parts of the state to vote for the changes.
10) If the churches are to be successful in their pursuit of assessment exemption, there would have to be churches in other watershed districts also asking for the same kind of exemption.
Therefore, it is strongly suggested that churches contact their State Senators and Legislators to seek for exemption from this kind of assessment taxation. It is also recommended that each church examine their assessment on the www.mwcdlakes.com assessment viewer and file and appeal by April 10th with the Tuscarawas County Clerk of Courts if they believe their assessment to be in error.
Report Submitted by:
Floyd Stanfill, Chairman
Canton / Akron Regular Baptist Pastor Fellowship