Two Alliance Defense Fund allied attorneys have succeeded in obtaining a settlement on behalf of a Ramsey County church once under threat of losing its tax-exempt status along with nearly 800 other churches and related organizations in the county. County officials had originally demanded that 784 “church organizations” submit forms and information or else risk loss of tax-exempt status, despite Minnesota law that exempts churches from such requirements.
“Government officials have no right to harass churches in violation of state law,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joe Infranco. “The county’s threat to revoke the property tax exemptions of hundreds of churches unless they submitted a pile of documents was arbitrary and violated Minnesota law. Some of the documents sought were not required for churches and did not exist, but the county demanded them regardless. We’re pleased that, in the case of this church, the county has decided to do the right thing. We hope they will do the right thing by the other churches as well.”
Ramsey County sent letters to all of the “church organizations,” including Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church, questioning property tax exemptions for various reasons. The letters demanded the churches submit tax exemption forms, incorporation documents, bylaws, financial statements, and other information or else face the loss of tax-exempt status, even though Minnesota law does not require churches to file such documentation. Advent risked losing its property tax exemption on undeveloped land the church has owned since 1957. ADF-allied attorneys Lynn Basich and Valerie LeMaster came to the church’s aid.
Basich filed two motions for waiver of tax payments on behalf of the church so that the church would not be subject to property taxes while its lawsuit, Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church v. County of Ramsey, moved forward in the Minnesota Tax Court. The chief judge of the tax court signed the order in May 2008. Now the county has agreed to settlement of the lawsuit and has agreed that all parcels of land the church owns will be considered tax-exempt. The county will correct their records to show the properties were also exempt during the tax years 2007 and 2008.
“The pastors and lay people of Advent Lutheran Church are relieved and satisfied with the outcome of this case,” Basich said. “The congregation is now free from the fear of losing its beloved church and having its property taken away from it.”
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