A rural Arizona church is facing a bill of $50,000 in back taxes and faces the possibility of foreclosure after a local property assessor sat on tax exemption paperwork for three years.
The church, known as the Isaiah 58 Project of Arizona, purchased property in 2006 and thereafter submitted paperwork to the La Paz County property assessor to be exempt from taxes.
At first, the assessor requested the church's government tax-exempt letter but when the church said Arizona property tax exemption statutes didn't require the letter, the assessor waited three years before granting a property tax exemption for the church.
Now, the church has a tax lien on its property for taxes owed between 2006-2008 because the property assessor only exempted it from property taxes after 2009. The lien has been sold to an individual by the county, making foreclosure on the church property a possibility.
Attorneys representing the church sent a letter this week to La Paz County Treasurer Leah Castro asking for the removal of the tax lien on the church's property.
"The assessor's office had no basis in law or fact to delay action on the church's property tax exemption," states the letter from Alliance Defense Fund attorneys. "Because of the assessor's actions in denying the property tax exemption for 2006-2008, the Church faces the very real possibility of losing its property for non-payment of taxes that never should have been assessed against the Church in the first place."
The Arizona Dept. of Revenue recently issued the church a letter verifying that it qualified to be exempt from state income taxes since August 2006. The document noted that although property used for religious worship is exempt from Arizona property taxes, the property tax exemptions are based on both the use of the property and the ownership.
Attorneys at ADF are asking Castro to use her authority to correct the assessor's "error of omission" and abate the back taxes.
"Churches shouldn't live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government, but this church truly is in fear of losing everything because of nothing other than an unexplained three-year delay in approving paperwork," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley.