By DON STINE
The Union Baptist Church in Neptune may not physically be there right now but congregants still want to worship the Lord and save souls. But that will come at a price – the Neptune tax assessor just slapped the church with a $3,500 tax bill.
“The congregation is not in a position to fund this bill,” Rev. John Wright, pastor of the church at 2101 W. Bangs Ave., said at this week’s Township Committee meeting.
Wright and about two dozen congregants and supporters attended the meeting. The church was built at its current site in 1972 and has always had a tax-exempt status.
But in 2016 the congregations started to renovate the church. Due to structural issues, however, the building was demolished to the foundation last year. Since the building is no longer there, the tax assessor took away its tax-exempt status. and Wright said he received the $3,500 tax bill in December.
He said tax officials maintain that taxes are now due because the building is gone and is a non-functioning church. The church’s marquee, steps, and foundation are still there and the congregation has plans to rebuild. A tax appeal could have been filed by Jan 15 but Wright said he was unaware of this process.
Most of the church members are on fixed incomes and the church is funded by free-will offerings. Wright said if the tax bill is not paid by March 14 then the property will be put up for a tax sale.
Bishop Paul L. Brown, pastor of the First Pentecostal Church at 144 Oxonia Ave., said that his church was razed to the ground in 2000 and remained that way until it was rebuilt in 2004.
“We never received a tax bill even though we were out of the building,” he said.
Church members said the township is “taxing God’s House.”
“This is totally insane…and needs to be corrected,” church member Theretha Jones said.
“This is an abomination. The use is still a church. Common sense dictates that the use has not changed.”
Township Attorney Gene Anthony said this issue is both a legal and tax issue. He noted that the tax assessor is appointed by the state so the township has little oversight.
“You are kind of singing to the choir here right now. No one here is unsympathetic but the tax assessor is independent and our hands are somewhat tied. We need to try to see if something is missing here,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Carol Rizzo asked what actions township officials or others can take to resolve the issue. She said she will go with church representatives to the tax department “to see what can be done.”
“They did not abandon the church. Let’s see what we can come up with to help. I am willing to try and we will try our best – that’s all we can do,” she said.
Mayor Nicholas Williams also said township officials will try to see what they can do to deal with the problem.
“We will try to do whatever we can to rectify the situation but please understand our position,” he said.
And church members said action can’t come too soon.
“We just want to save souls and stay out of the government’s way,” congregant Brenda Stewart said.