Preachers will pay taxes after all | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Preachers will pay taxes after all

Posted By on Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 3:04 PM

Pulaski County Tax Assessor Janet Troutman Ward, exposed this morning in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article for granting legally questionable real property tax exemptions on the personally owned homes of nine preachers, has reversed course.

She says she'll put these homes on the property tax rolls after all. Taxes are due Oct. 12 She said she'll only seek taxes for this year. Some have had exemptions for years and Ward could seek refunds, but she said she still believes she has a legal justification for these exemptions and says she'll see how the issue plays out in expected court challenges before deciding on past taxes. She's also discovered one more exemption than originally reported.

The taxes totaled roughly $31,000 a year on homes ranging up to a $600,000 west Little Rock spread with pool and tennis courts. The largest beneficiaries, according to Charlie Frago's story, were Bishop Steven Arnold, until recently senior pastor at St. Mark Baptist; Awareness Center International Apostle Lawrence E. Braggs, who had the biggest house; United Pentecostal Church Presbyter Bill Harden, and Joel Holmes of North Little Rock's First Pentecostal Church. Ward said the pastor of her church was not among those exempted.

Ward she'd had the policy in place for 10 years, but many pastors, including leaders of mainline churches, didn't qualify because they didn't use their home for church purposes as these did. She contended they used homes for counseling, prayer sessions and other ministries. She said further that case law was murky, but offered support for her tax-exemption for parsonages. "I just don't give it to anybody," she said. She said she'd denied a licensed minister this week because his preaching was part-time. She said she didn't know if any other assessor granted exemptions to personally owned preachers' homes.

She decided to reverse course, she said, after a discussion this morning after the article appeared with Karla Burnett, the county attorney. "She believes they should be put back on" the tax rolls. She said she's pretty sure only 10 parcels are involved, though she's still researching potentially a couple more. "I think I'll get sued," she said, but she said this could either be from someone contesting the past exemptions or seeking one.

"It's a legal question," she said. "I didn't set out to do this maliciously." She said a legal challenge might be useful in clearing the air. She was preparing letters today notifying preachers of her decision, but she said the media was already doing a good job of getting the word out.

Here, according to Ward, are the 10 homeowners getting notice that taxes are owed though properties had previously been classified as exempt:

Steven and Shanta Arnold, 28 Durance Drive, Little Rock

Marvin R. and Angela Barham, 5613 Westview St., North Little Rock

Lawrence E. Braggs, 156211 Sorrells Road, Little Rock

Craig B. Collier, no address, North Little Rock

David H. and Marian Dyer, 19 Coolwood, Little Rock

Wayne Garner, Highway 300, Roland

Bill and Margaret Harden, 11600 Hilaro Springs Road, Little Rock

Joel and Janet Holmes, 520 Ascot, Sherwood

Gerald and Wanda Parker, 950 Journe6y Dr8iive, Sherwood

Jon R and Lyn Webb, 8 Summerland Court, Little Rock

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