Although this applies to any religion, the impact would essentially be felt by the Diocese of Scranton, which has already started implementing a plan to close some schools and half of the 90 churches in Luzerne County.
[County Assessment Director] Alu said he recently learned that several other counties already started taxing closed churches and religious schools, maintaining that their closure no longer qualifies them for tax-exempt status.
It might seem that this would be a counter-productive strategy for the counties -- demand that properties which are generating no income start paying their share of local taxes -- but in reality, it is better for all in the long run. By making vacant properties more expensive to retain, it forces churches to order their priorities: do they want to use their hard-won donations and tithes from parishioners to further their religious mission, or do they just want to pay for the privilege of being a dog in the manger? And why should a church escape contribution to the cost of local services for property for which it has no current use?
I am not informed as to whether an impending property tax assessment is the reason that St. Mark's in Philadelphia decided, after holding the property for three years, to have a summer vacation Bible school at the beautiful and historic, but very vacant, church of St. James the Less (see previous link). And now I learn from St. Mark's latest newsletter that they are holding "work days" at the church in preparation for repainting the interior. I hope that all of this is a precursor to a plan to make such a beautiful place of worship once again ring with music, psalms, sermons and prayers.
But it has taken three years. At least now there will be no reward for doing nothing. And the cost of ECUSA's litigation strategy just went up another notch.
It is also worth noting that apart from paying its own attorneys and subsidizing a few rump dioceses, ECUSA contributes nothing of its own funds toward the long-term costs of its strategy, which are borne by the Dioceses and the parishes that remain in them. When a Diocese takes over a vacant church property, the funds required to maintain it (and now pay property taxes on it) have to come from the rest of the parishes in that Diocese. Thus in commanding that suits be brought to recover the properties from departing congregations, the Presiding Bishop claims to be acting as a "faithful steward" of property entrusted long ago to the Church. But that is empty rhetoric. The burden of her "stewardship", as always, falls on the regular pewsitters -- of whom there are, each year, fewer and fewer.
The market for vacant church buildings has to be even more depressed than the one for single-family residences. Can there be any doubt that the Presiding Bishop is being penny-wise and pound-foolish in pushing her litigation strategy? Unless new numbers of churchgoers are recruited to replace those driven out, simple mathematics tells us that the pro-rata cost of the strategy will go up among those who remain. That is a recipe for increased disaffection, and increased departures from the Church.
I put up a post recently about how no one, paradoxically, seems to be in charge as the country's monetary system lurches toward disaster. The same seems to be true of ECUSA, as it slouches toward bankruptcy -- of both the temporal and the spiritual kind.