QUARTZSITE, Ariz. — A small Arizona church that helps the homeless will now be able to remain open after receiving more than $68,000 in donations to cover an illegal tax bill it was required to pay by June 15 to avoid foreclosure. La Paz County required the church to pay the tax even though both state law and the Arizona Department of Revenue say the church isn’t liable.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Church of the Isaiah 58 Project of Arizona in a lawsuit over the taxes, but because state courts have been unwilling to defer payment of the back-taxes until the completion of litigation, the congregation faced foreclosure. Supporters of the church, which operates on a shoestring budget of only $50,000 per year, contributed enough to pay the tax bill, allowing the church to stay open and continue its lawsuit.
“After an outpouring of support from Christians across the country, this church won’t have to shut its doors and discontinue its crucial ministry,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Now we can move forward and challenge the unjust actions of one county official who has illegally impeded the church’s efforts to help the least fortunate in a struggling community.”
Under state law, the church qualified for an exemption from property taxes and filed the appropriate paperwork with the La Paz County property assessor. The assessor sat on the paperwork for three years before granting a tax exemption and then only granted it for the years 2009 and later, leaving the church with back taxes for 2007-2008 that it should not owe.
A September 2013 decision from the Arizona Court of Appeals in Church of the Isaiah 58 Project of Arizona v. La Paz County upheld an earlier Tax Court ruling that said the church had to pay the tax bill before challenging it as illegal. ADF attorneys have argued, however, that state law does not require the church to do so when it is challenging an illegally assessed tax so high that the congregation can’t pay the bill and ask for a refund later.
The Arizona Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal, leaving the church with no choice but to raise enough money to pay the illegal tax bill to stay open, continue its lawsuit, and then seek a refund of the bill if it prevails.
–Alliance Defending Freedom