June 26, 2012 9:43:59 AM
After more than 10 years of lingering in legislative purgatory, state churches will soon be getting a break when it comes to paying utility bills. Effective Sunday, churches will no longer have to pay sales tax on utilities including electricity, water and natural gas.
House Bill 582, which legislates the tax exemption, passed the House 121-1 before being passed unanimously by the Senate. Rep. Gary Chism (R, Columbus), who authored the bill more than a decade ago, said the timing was right for another look at the legislation.
"I was approached by Grant Mitchell about 10 years ago about churches having to pay taxes on utilities -- you don't pay sales tax on homes and for personal usage, it is applied to businesses and churches," Chism said. "Grant works for East Lowndes Water and he is the pastor of Caledonia United Pentecostal Church. I started working on this bill after talking to Grant but I never had any success with it. With Representative Jeff Smith (R, Columbus) on the Ways and Means Committee, I decided to file it one more time. This time, we were successful in getting Governor Bryant to sign it. This will benefit all churches."
To qualify, a church must send a copy of its 501c3 paperwork to the utility companies. If the church cannot find its paperwork, it can fill out an affidavit stating it has 501c3 status. Chism said the tax break is good for any church that is operating a non-profit organization, but the break does not extend to any commercial properties a church might operate.
"I think this will be a good thing for the churches," Mitchell said. "I think it will mostly save our church some money on our gas and electric bills. If it's not abused, it could be a great thing."
With one of the larger congregations in Lowndes County, First Baptist Church of Columbus Pastor Dr. Shawn Parker said his church is contemplating utilizing the tax break.
"Our business office is currently looking into it to see if we could save some money," Parker said. "We've never filed for tax-exempt status as a church. We've always felt like we should contribute to the community. We are examining this utilities option to see what would work."
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