California Church Wins Civil Trial Regarding Back-dated Property Taxes! BY JASON MILLER

In a decision made by the Marin County Superior Court dated October 11th ruled in favor of Valley Baptist Church regarding a property tax case. This ruling comes after the City of San Rafael in California sent a notice to Valley Baptist to declare that the church owed back taxes of over $13,000. The city had adopted a Paramedic Services Special Tax back in 2010, which would allow the City to annually tax non-residential structures at a rate of up to 14 cents per square foot.
Earlier this month on October 9, an attorney from the Pacific Justice Institute Ray Hacke represented the Valley Baptist Church in a civil trial against the City of San Rafael. The trial regarded the aforementioned City’s Paramedic Services Special Tax. At issue were two questions of law: one, whether the Paramedic Tax is a property tax, as opposed to an excise tax; and two, if the Tax is in fact a property tax, whether its status as a voter-approved “special tax” allows the City to skirt the California Constitution’s provision exempting buildings that are used exclusively for religious worship from taxation.

The answer according to PJI’s first question was “yes,” as liability for the Paramedic Tax is triggered by mere ownership of real property, as opposed to a particular use of the property, and is due annually. In answer to the second question was “no,” as the court held that the California Constitution exempts buildings used for religious worship from property taxation in all its forms, not just ad valorem taxes, which are levied on property in proportion to its value as determined by assessment or appraisal.

Based on its answers to those questions, the court held that the Paramedic Tax was unconstitutional as applied to Valley Baptist. The court also ordered the City to refund the $13,644 in taxes that the Church had to pay to the City as a condition of filing the lawsuit, along with interest at a rate of 3 percent per annum.

Valley Baptist’s victory could have implications for both cities and churches statewide(California)—especially if an appellate court affirms the trial court’s ruling. As one of the cases Hacke cited in his trial briefs noted, cities have an obvious incentive to re-label their taxes to get around the California Constitution’s provision exempting church buildings from taxation.

“The Legislature has declared that church buildings are exempt from property taxation, and cities have a duty to honor that,” PJI President Brad Dacus said, and that “The City of San Rafael chose not to, and hopefully this case will send a message to other cities that they cannot willfully ignore churches’ rights under the California Constitution in order to generate revenue.”


Keep Reading the Miller News Service for updates on this developing story.


© 2018 Miller News Service


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