LAURINBURG – Cross Pointe Church wants the county to change how it taxes some of the property that the church owns.
An attorney representing the church — Mike Schmidt — asked the Scotland County Board of Commissioners on Monday to give tax exempt status to all 25 acres where the church is situated off Wilkerson Drive.
In 2017, the church was granted tax exempt status for the building and 10 acres of land, but not the entire property.
County Manager Kevin Patterson told the board that Cross Pointe Church applied in January 2017 for a religious exemption and met the requirements for some of the property.
“They made a request for all of it. The tax office decision on that was the building, the land improvements parking lots and everything else were exempted as well as 10 acres of land. This left approximately 15 acres that were not exempt,” Patterson said.
Patterson told the board that the tax office had delved into the issue with the UNC School of Government for guidelines and precedents and discovered that most decisions were made on a situational basis. The law applies to real and personal property being used for religious purposes along with buildings and land actually occupied and any adjacent land deemed reasonably necessary for the “convenient use” of the building.
“The question comes back to what is reasonably necessary for the convenient use,” Patterson said. “The answers that we have gotten is that is up to the local government to figure out on a case by case situation.”
The church believes the land should be exempted because the fields are used for local youth sports teams to practice including an AAU football team, there is also a prayer path on the property and a section of the wooded lot is used for camping by the Royal Rangers – a group similar to Boy Scots with a focus on faith and ministry.
“This particular church is rather unique in their approach to spreading the Gospel …we have an outreach … that is second to none in Scotland County, especially to the youth of our community,” Schmidt said.
The lawyer saidSouthview Presbyterian Church sued Cumberland County to gain exemption for a church three trailers and 20 acres of land after the county granted exemption to only five acres. The difference was that the church opened to property to the public for recreation, whereas Schmidt claimed that Cross Pointe uses the property exclusively for ministry. The church took the case to the state court of appeals who overturned Cumberland County’s decision.
“The court of appeals got the case and reversed the tax commission, giving us really what we need for an interpretation of that term reasonably ‘necessary for the convenient use’ is. I think if you take the time to read this case, you’re going to have the answer to what would be the right decision under the law,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also presented the board with a 46-page dossier including sworn affidavits from church Pastor Michael Eds, Councilwoman Mary Evans who is a member of the church and members: David Quick, Jason Watts and Roy Young which detail the church’s use of the property.
Nearly all of the board members expressed interest in trying to help the church continue its missions in some way, but were reluctant to grant full exemption fearing that other churches might feel alienated or that they may present appeals and demand a refund on taxes already paid.
The board recommended sending the issue to the policy committee for review.
Betty Gholston was in favor of granting the exemption.
“I’ve talked to Rev. Edds, and I haven’t met a person in Scotland County that is more community minded and wants to work with our youth and help this community. I think if he was given an opportunity for those 15 acres, he could do some magnificent things,” Gholston said. “We do have problems with recreation in this county. We have some recreation, but we could expand so much more. You said case by case, and I think this is an exemplary case.”
In a related matter, the board also heard from Schmidt concerning an appeal to grant a tax exemption to 90 year-old Danny Kelly who owes more than seven years in back taxes on a piece of property he purchased which already had unpaid back taxes of more than $3,000 at the time of acquisition.
Schmidt is representing Kelly in his foreclosure case and presented the exemption request to the board. No decision was made on the request.
The board was also informed that the tax office has begun sending out gap tax bills. Gap bills occur when an owner allows the registration to lapse, for any reason. County tax offices are now required to collect taxes from the time the registration lapsed to the time of renewal instead of the state tracking down vehicle information and sending the bill.
In other business, the board heard a presentation from representatives of the J. Arthur Gallagher insurance brokers group concerning the county’s interest in joining the NC Health Insurance Pool. The discussion was tabled and will continue on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Emergency Operations Center on West Boulevard.
Patterson also told the board that contracts with Hawke Builders had been signed and steel ordered to begin work on two proposed fire substations. The city could have the lot on Purcell Road cleared and utilities run to the site by the end of the month. Construction could begin as soon as March 5 and have a 120-day completion window.
The board also scheduled a retreat for Feb. 27 and 9 a.m. at the Emergency Operations Center on West Boulevard.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169