[Vision2020] 07-07-04 Idaho SR: Citizens challenge church's tax status

Art Deco aka W. Fox deco at moscow.com
Wed Jul 7 07:17:09 PDT 2004

Citizens challenge church's tax status
Latah commissioners cancel protest hearing
Hannelore Sudermann  [Spokesman Review]
Staff writer
July 7, 2004

MOSCOW, Idaho - In a rare proceeding for Latah County, two citizens are
questioning the tax exempt status for Christ Church, a large local religious
organization that boasts 800 members, a college, a publishing company and a

The church, its auxiliary offices and the school, New Saint Andrews College, own
and inhabit several buildings in downtown Moscow. The church and school
incorporation are listed with the IRS as public charities, and with the
exception of a few thousand feet which is rented out as office or retail space,
most of their properties are off the tax rolls.

A Board of Equalization hearing scheduled Tuesday to hear a protest filed by
Moscow residents Rosemary Huskey and Saundra Lund was canceled by two of the
Latah County commissioners, who comprise two-thirds of the board. They said with
the help of their legal counsel and after receiving a letter from the college's
attorney, they determined that Christ Church and New Saint Andrews College
weren't given enough notice to prepare.

"This is our first experience in these kinds of protests," said Tom Stroschein,
Latah County commissioner and BOE member, apologizing to the room of about 50
people for postponing the hearing. The information did not get to Christ Church
in a timely manner, he said.

Though Huskey and Lund came to the hearing with a stack of documents and a
visual presentation, Stroschein refused to open the meeting Monday for any kind
of testimony. Fellow board member Jack Nelson, backed his decision. "This is in
fairness to the owner of the property."

Huskey and Lund said they have no personal connection with the church, but have
filed their protest out of concern that a large and influential organization in
the community may have bent the rules and is not paying the taxes that it may
owe on more than 40,000-square-feet of commercial property.

Doug Wilson, pastor of Christ Church, is scheduled to be out of town at a
conference in Virginia all this week. The attorney for New Saint Andrews, Greg
Dickison said he had a court commitment in Kootenai County Tuesday.

This is not the first controversy for the church. This winter a book that Wilson
co-wrote about slavery at the time of the Civil War caused a stir when a group
of Moscow residents and two UI professors accused him of being an apologist for
the slave-holders. His stance and a history conference the church hosted drew
attention as many individuals and groups, including the Southern Poverty Law
Center, accused Wilson and the speakers he invited to the conference of being

But this time, the controversy is not about ideology, but about property and
money. Lund and Huskey attended the May 3, 2004, BOE hearings at which tax
exempt status for the downtown properties belonging to Christ Church and New
Saint Andrews College were granted. They say they were never given an
opportunity to speak. "Kind of like today, there was not place for public
input," said Huskey.

So they went through a formal process of protesting the status, and in June
filed their complaint claiming that the board granted the status based on
incomplete and inaccurate information. They say they don't believe the BOE is at
fault, just that it wasn't given a complete picture by the church, the college
and their representatives.

As for the specific issues regarding the church and college tax status, Lund and
Huskey said there were multiple problems, but they didn't want to discuss them
prior to making them public at an open, on-the-record hearing with the BOE.

One of their issues could be that County Commissioner Paul Kimmel, a member of
the Christ Church congregation, spoke and voted at the May 3 BOE hearings. His
involvement with the church while deciding an issue that directly affects the
church may be a conflict of interest.

After the hearing today, from which Kimmel recused himself saying he wanted to
avoid even the appearance of conflict, the commissioner told The
Spokesman-Review that he did vote on issues affecting the church in May, but
only after making it known that he was a member. He said he has no personal or
financial affiliation with the college.

According to the minutes from the May 3 meetings, the other two commissioners
also voted in favor or granting the tax exempt status.

Huskey and Lund's protest hearing is now scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday in the
commissioner's meeting room at the courthouse. Because the hearing has been
rescheduled and the issue seems to be of interest to a number of people
community, the postponement will benefit not only the parties involved, but more
people in Latah County who might want to attend, said Commissioner Nelson.

The women disagreed with the postponement, saying that they had filed their
paperwork and given notice as instructed and they didn't understand how the
church and its representatives couldn't have known about yesterday's hearing
well in advance. "We all know this is a small town," said Huskey, adding that
she posted the information on a community e-mail exchange. "This was no
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