By Jim Crawford
July 31, 2012
The Constitution of the United States forbids control of religion by government. Embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States are the words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Alaska’s Constitution in Section 1.4 - Freedom of Religion states: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The Municipality of Anchorage, our family’s home for nearly seven decades is subject to both. The message is crystal clear, government must not interfere with our practice of religion. That freedom to practice our love of God is fundamental to being an American or Alaskan.
When any employee of any government puts himself above the Constitution, I must sound the alarm. I am deeply concerned for all of us in this community. Marty McGee is using his position of power as the City Assessor for the Municipality of Anchorage to attack and damage my church, The Anchorage Baptiste Temple. Let’s examine the facts.
McGee determined that real estate owned by the Anchorage Baptist Temple is not solely owned by the church and therefore is subject to real property taxes, a convenient way to disregard their tax exempt status. He has arrived at this conclusion by imputing two compensation agreements, one verbal and one written, to reinterpret ownership of real property and achieve his agenda. He then assigns ownership of ABT houses to staffers and declares the joint ownership unqualified for tax exemption. Who else could he do this to?
As a real estate broker for a couple of decades, I love real estate. I know real estate well. Real estate law is simple, straight forward. There are no ambiguities in real estate ownership.
Title to real estate is passed on by deed and recorded in specific documents to protect the owner. Want to know who owns a piece of real property in Anchorage? Simply read the deed and out pops the owner. It’s not mysterious, nor subject to interpretation. The houses for which Assessor McGee now wants $52,000 in property taxes are properly titled to Anchorage Baptist Temple, a religious tax exempt institution. No other owner appears on the deed. No other person is an owner of the property. Anchorage Baptist Temple is tax exempt just like the thousands of other charitable, religious and educational organizations in Anchorage.
Why is ABT singled out among the tax exempt organizations of Anchorage for punitive treatment?
McGee used two compensation agreements (Anchorage Daily News story July 15, 2012) to fabricate staff ownership of properties, in stark contrast to the clear, legal deeds in good standing. His reasoning is simply false. What do employment compensation agreements have to do with a house? Agreements of any sort don’t change title. Only by a deed does ownership pass. The deed contains the single answer in real estate ownership.
The compensation agreements by two staff members of ABT did not include an ownership change of the properties in question. Any entity, either taxable or non-taxable is free to encourage staff performance through compensation agreements. A small business owner doesn’t necessarily want a fellow owner in the company. They don’t want to dilute their ownership or the control of the company. A compensation agreement is crafted to grant compensation to reward performance, longevity or achievement of the goals agreed upon. Agreements to compensate are not ownership of the company. Similarly, agreements to compensate ABT staff members do not establish ownership of ABT or the real estate it owns.
If our government treats equal entities like the Archdiocese of Anchorage or Alaska Pacific University differently than ABT, government then becomes the master not the servant. Alaska Pacific University can provide tax exempt housing to its president. The Archdiocese of Anchorage can provide housing for priests and nuns. Why can’t ABT use its equal status to do the same? That is way too much arbitrary government for this conservative.
Religious institutions in Anchorage should be free of government influence, damage or interference. Every tax exempt organization in Anchorage is jeopardized by the Assessors action. Every citizen should be able to practice their religion without bias, prejudice or interference from their government. After all, that is exactly what the First Amendment and Alaska’s Constitution guarantee. Marty McGee’s actions fail the Constitutional fairness test.
Anchorage Baptist Temple and Anchorage Christian School educate approximately 600 K-12 students. The cost of educating those students according to the Anchorage School District is $16,244 each. If ABT were not educating our kids, Anchorage taxes and State contribution to education would rise $9,746,400. Perhaps, we should say thank you to religious schools in Anchorage instead of kicking them in the teeth.
Anchorage Baptist Temple and its pastor, Dr. Jerry Prevo followed specific legal advice provided by well-respected law firms in Anchorage guaranteeing the legality in their compensation agreements. They followed the law. The City Assessor should follow their good example.
Taking $52,000 away from their charitable works in community service and education would be a travesty. Trampling ABT's legal rights could set the course for every other tax exempt organization in Anchorage. This is dangerous, personal and agenda driven politics that our town should reject. We, as a community, must support everyone’s constitutional rights.