It Just Might Work: Everybody pays

3
51

_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

Is it just me, or did some of the rest of you find the numbers in Jordan Green’s cover story (“Who owns downtown?”, beginning on page 20) shocking?

I’m not talking about the fact that the Guilford County Jail may be the most expensive building in downtown Greensboro, or that some of the people I thought would be on the list of the biggest property owners were not.

I’m talking about how many entities — wealthy entities, based on their holdings — don’t pay taxes.

Railroads don’t pay taxes, so Southern Railways’ $3.5 million building in downtown Greensboro is tax exempt.

Telecoms don’t pay taxes either, so Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Co.’s  $22 million building around the corner gets the same deal, even though the days when a terrestrial telephone was essential for business are long gone.

Most egregious are the churches in both downtown districts.

When churches were granted tax-exempt status in the United States, it was 1894. There were no megachurches. No television ministries. Even the Vatican had less gold in 1894 than it does today.

But now we have some very wealthy churches — even in an area where many do not have enough food to eat. The West Market Street United Methodist Church has more than $11 million worth of property in downtown Greensboro. That’s more than Warren Buffet owns, and almost as much as the YMCA, another tax-exempt religious entity with a building worth $15 million.

Considering that taxes are how we pay for the social safety net, you might think churches would be happy to contribute some of their millions to the less fortunate. Or that they might recognize their exemption from contributing to the common good means that they have a special responsibility to the poor of their city. But I don’t think that’s necessarily how it goes.

In downtown Greensboro alone, more than $60 million in real estate is owned by churches, railroads and telecoms. That’s about $840,000 in property taxes. In the hungriest city in America, that could buy a lot of loaves and fishes.

  • Jason Windsor

    How much do area churches give to help the poor and hungry? Seems like that’s a figure you should have researched before excoriating them in your paper.

  • Jason Windsor

    If that’s the point, then our assumptions are already diverging. First of all, WMUMC has already paid for their property. They use that “space in our community” because it belongs to them. They abide by the laws that govern real estate just like everyone else. They don’t pay property taxes because no church does, from the richest to the poorest. Your point betrays your belief that their property belongs to the community and what they do or don’t pay for it is up to you to decide.

    Handling it in a case-by-case manner would probably be a violation of Fourteenth Amendment. But why stop at churches? Why not other local 501c3s like Planned Parenthood, Meals on Wheels, Greensboro Urban Ministry? And why stop at property taxes?

    Speaking of “additional, cumbersome, regulatory bureaucracy”, tax revenues are at an all-time high. Why are there still so many people in need?

    “We’d still have roughly the same money going into tax coffers where, in terms of services to at-risk communities, it will go further than it does in the form of charity.”

    How can that possibly be true? Your “additional, cumbersome bureaucracy” can not make each dollar stretch as far as the volunteers on the ground. I’ve worked with several churches in the area, and I assure you, they put every dollar to work, whatever it takes. Government bureaucrats have no need to do that, because if they need more money, they just take it, with their allies using phrases like “space in our community” and “social safety net” as excuses for state-approved extortion.

    “Started raising serious questions” simply isn’t true, since there wasn’t a single question in his column (aside from his mention of Jordan’s article). Instead he “made several baseless accusations with virtually no data”, which is decidedly different. Saying he “started raising serious questions” is journalism’s version of a Ribbon of Participation.

    If you think, after spending 500 words trying to amend Brian’s column with facts he himself should have presented, that his column was a success, than our definitions of “succeeded admirably” have widely diverged, as well, unless you meant “confirmed my bias” then, to THAT end, yes, it did “succeed admirably”.

    But I’ll let you have the last word, since it appears our assumptions and definitions are too far apart for constructive debate.