ABC News: Worship, But At What Cost?: “Hindus aren’t the only ones drawn to Stafford. In a town with just one movie theater, two grocery stores, and 14 gas stations, there are 51 houses of worship, representing the united nations of religions.”
An interesting report, linked above, concerning the number of churches and other religious shrines in the city of Stafford, Texas explains that there are 51 such institutions in this town of approximately 15,000. A rough, back-of-the-napkin calculation indicates that if 100% of the town’s population went to church, which would be highly unlikely and probably the first such jurisdiction in the world to post 100% support for anything (other than the supposed support that the former Iraqi head of state Saddam Hussein used to boast in various “elections” over the years), that would mean each church would have a congregation of approximately 300. For small- and modest-sized churches, that’s a fair amount of churchgoers. For the larger ones, its woefully small and, perhaps, a sign that, just maybe, Stafford can’t support so many institutions.
However, it’s not simply about congregation sizes. Stafford city council is considering putting a cap on churches so no new ones could build – at least until new people move in and commercial activity is on the rise. The evangelical right is fuming. How dare the local government try to regulate their freedom of religion; it’s simply unconstitutional, they cry.
Alas, it’s a bogus argument. In a town with no property taxes, preferring to opt for development cost charges, franchise and sales taxes to raise revenue, the city can only afford to have so much land tied up by tax-exempt churches. Eventually, they do have a right to say to the “right”, enough is enough. The town needs additional commercial development if it intends to maintain (and grow) both its revenue base and balance its budget, not to mention its bragging rights for having no property taxes.
I do hope the evangelists take the issue to court, if and when the city council passes its “church capping” bylaw. That way, city of Stafford can defend its own legal rights to provide much needed local infrastructure and government services to its citizens.
Ultimately though, my personal belief is to begin forcing churches to pay property taxes, perhaps at a reduced rate for non-profit societies and organizations. They’re flush with cash, and while they do great work in the towns in which they operate, the very fact that many of the largest churches have healthy surpluses of cash in their bank accounts and on their annual budgets, is a strong indication they can afford to pay their way. At one time, the Roman Catholic Church was a significant shareholder in Safeway, the famous North American grocery store owner/operator. While I do understand that investing in healthy blue-chip, dividend-paying corporations is a good way to raise revenue for the much-needed services they provide, there comes a point that when the large, worldwide churches begin acting like multinational venture capitalists, property taxes must be paid.
So, bottom line: everybody should pay property taxes; however, city councils should put in place (and most already have) a mechanism to apply for an annual exemption from paying property taxes so that those most helped by the extra cash in their bank accounts actually get it – and those that can afford it (like the Catholic and Anglican churches) pay their share. Afterall, they still don’t have to pay income taxes.