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Bill would erase Schenectady church’s $11K property tax bill

Saturday, June 21, 2014
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— A vote in the state Senate could save a Schenectady church $11,121.

That’s how much the Shiloh Church, on Congress Street, owes in taxes from 2009.

The church, like a dozen others, didn’t file its annual tax-exempt paperwork on time in 2008, according to city records. Now, the state Assembly has voted to restore the church’s tax-exempt status, the first step to erasing the bill.

Some assessors call churches to remind them of the annual paperwork and work with them when needed. But under a strict policy in Schenectady at the time, Shiloh just got a bill.

For the entire next year, the church was taxed. Church officials quickly realized their mistake and filed their paperwork properly, so they’ve never been taxed again.

But that one year was expensive: more than $10,000. Now, after years of interest, the total is $11,121, according to city records.

Many other churches were in a similar predicament because of the strict rule, but they couldn’t just refuse to pay. They were slapped with foreclosure notices from a private company, American Tax Funding, that had bought their tax liens.

The state Legislature ended up passing 13 individual resolutions to restore those properties’ tax-exempt status, and then last year passed another piece of legislation to save any properties not specifically named before. But all those properties had their tax liens purchased by ATF, which was referenced in the legislation.

Shiloh’s liens were never sold. ATF chose which liens to buy, avoiding properties that might not be worth the money.

Late Thursday night, the Assembly amended last year‘s legislation to include any tax-exempt property, whether or not its liens were sold. If the Senate agrees, Shiloh’s tax debt to the city could be erased.

The City Council cannot forgive a tax debt, but if the state officially restores Shiloh’s tax-exempt status for 2009, the council would have the authority to eliminate the tax bill.

Shiloh is a small church in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, but the pastor said it has operated for more than 30 years. City records confirmed it had filed for tax-exempt status for many years prior to the mistake in 2008.

The Rev. Chester Gapczynski, the church’s pastor, specifically thanked Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, for pushing the bill.

“Without his bill, our church faces foreclosure and the possibility of shuttering our doors,” Gapczynski said in a news release, adding that the church donates food to the City Mission and runs a program for teens.

Santabarbara said he hoped the bill would finally resolve the tax-exemption issue in Schenectady. He said churches shouldn’t be taxed.

“I fought to ensure they can keep their doors open to continue their good work helping those in need, including our own families, friends and neighbors,” he said in a news release.

 
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