A Church Is Hurting This City’s Economy

Riverdale, Illinois already has money trouble, but at least they’re getting about $50,000 a year in property tax from a nearby lot that sits vacant.

Now, the Israel of God church wants to build on that land. That could mean even further devastation for the community:

“Someone has to pay for it, and we have to make up for those monies in some way,” [Riverdale Mayor Deyon] Dean said. “When you look at it, this may increase fees for many things — for public safety, for stickers, for other things that we don’t want to have to increase.”

“We don’t need no church. We have a church sitting at least 100 yards away,” said Riverdale resident Ken Allen, who is among those who oppose the plans for the mega-church.

It’s not because of religious objections, but economic concerns.

“Is that church gonna give us jobs?” he said. “That’s what we need out here. We need work. We need employment We have too much people out here unemployed.”

It reminds me of Stafford, Texas, where the city of seven square miles has 51 churches and counting… and they’ve suffered because of it.

The church argues that they’re bringing thousands of people through their doors each week who (theoretically) have money to spend… so it’ll be good for the community. But no doubt a retail store would make better business sense — It’d mean more jobs (including jobs for people the church won’t hire, like non-Christians and gay people), payment of property taxes (which the church doesn’t have to pay), and it’d be a draw for people from outside Riversale who want to spend money in the area (instead of just handing it over to a church). Hell, maybe the local waiters and waitresses would even get real tips.

The wrench in the argument is that there are currently no signs of retail stores or other businesses trying to buy that vacant lot.

(Thanks to James for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • observer

    “The church argues that they’re bringing thousands of people through
    their doors each week who (theoretically) have money to spend… so it’ll
    be good for the community. ”

    It’s only good for the community if you were to GIVE to the community, not just take from them. Kinda like what Jesus told you to do.

    • cipher

      He didn’t really mean it. Liberals tricked him into saying it.

      • The Other Weirdo

         How do you trick a guy who comes not to bring peace but a sword? :)

    • Stev84

       Money that they will give to a church that then pays no taxes on it

      • The Other Weirdo

         Can people write off their church contributions against their taxes in the US?

        • Alan Christensen

          Yes, up to a certain percentage of income.

          • The Other Weirdo

             So, the city collections no taxes, and the Federal government misses out on the income tax? So what benefit does the country derive?

            • The Other Weirdo

               So, the city collects… D’oh!

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Churches and church property cost every town money. They cost the entire country, at all levels.

  • OtterRose
    • Patterrssonn

      All I get is a blank search page, was it supposed to link to a reference?

  • The Other Weirdo

    All I got from that is that you can, apparently, generate money out of thin air by simply paving over a bit of grass and putting a fence around it. Now why didn’t I think of that?

  • Alan Christensen

    Maybe cities could make a deal. The churches get to keep their tax-exempt status, but don’t expect police and the fire department to protect them. Don’t expect the potholes on their street to be patched or their street lights to be on. Or their trash to be picked up. Or for their opinions to count for anything with local governments. “Why, yes, the city did approve a bar and strip club on one side of you and wood pulp factory on the other. What’s it to you?”

    • Jill Cooke

      I always say “Until your read to pay taxes, you shouldn’t be using city services or involved in politics in any way. Period”

  • Neil

    Slightly O/T but related:

    While I do find the tax breaks that churches get to be unfair, I also think that property tax rates are ridiculous and serve as another barrier that keeps lower class and lower-middle class people from owning and keeping property.  They also serve to make times harder for people dealing with the death or illness of a family member, unemployment, or other common accidents or inconvenences, somtimes directly causing homelessness.  Most single-family home owners where I live pay between $2000 and $3000 dollars a year in property taxes for fairly modest plot sizes…the equivalent of four month’s rent for my one-bedroom apartment, or two month’s rent for a comparable home.  

    I hate that conservatives work so hard to frame the issue of taxes as “punishing success”, because rational, progressive income tax policies (including capital gains and corporate income) are the only really fair way to fund the needs of a society.    Those who benefit more from the free market, common resources, and tax-funded infrastructure should put in more in taxes, yet much of our taxes are taken from those who can least afford it, and serve to raise barriers that keep poorer people from owning property, owning businesses, and participating in the free market as anything other than voiceless, powerless labor with only their bodies to sell.

    • http://www.justliberty1776.wordpress.com/ J-lib

      Most taxes DO, as a matter of fact, penalize success. Wage taxes punish work. Sales taxes punish exchange of goods and services. (Tax incidence usually falls about equally on buyer and seller, if I recall correctly from my econ texts). Property taxes on capital goods (buildings, plants, machinery etc.) punish productive enterprise. About the only type of tax which categorically, without a lot of tweaks and tricks, does not punish productivity is the pure land value tax, which however is not currently used anywhere in its pure form. But it should be. 

      Retooling Property Taxes in Public Management Magazine, March 2010:  
      http://webapps.icma.org/pm/9202/public/cover.cfm?author=walter%20rybeck&title=retooling%20property%20taxes

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        A land value tax is about the most unfair possible tax, because it taxes you repeatedly on something that doesn’t generate revenue. In other words, to own land you are forced to have money. Run out of money, you lose the land.

        Tax should always be in kind. Money for money.

        I have a serious problem with the idea that a tax punishes anything. It’s a payment for services provided by a functional society. To say that a tax is a form of punishment is to say that your are punished when you buy something because you have to hand over money.

        • http://justliberty1776.wordpress.com/ J-Lib

          I’m surprised that in the same post, you say that taxation is payment for services provided by a functional society, but then you say that taxation according to land value would be “unfair.” Actually it would be the most fair possible, because the value of a site goes up precisely in proportion to the public services and other development around it. 

          That means that, once the value of the building is subtracted, the remaining part — the land site value — ultimately comes from the surrounding community. Thus, it would be entirely appropriate for the community to re-cycle that value in the form of a LVT. 

          The landholder would pay in proportion to the value he/she gets (or could get) from the location and the various amenities around it. Value for value is the essence of the free market. 

          Whether or not they utilize the property to its full potential is up to the owner, but obviously LVT incentivizes the owner to use it as productively as possible, or else sell to someone who would. Thus, making it both the fairest device for raising revenue, and an economic stimulus as well. 

          Most of us who support this also support a rollback in other taxes which are the really dangerous ones, such as taxes on business and income. 

          The only people who tend to be hurt by LVT are speculators and slumlords, but they don’t add anything to a community, but rather, they subtract. 

          • http://justliberty1776.wordpress.com/ J-Lib

            BTW, ideal  implementation of a serious LVT would be over a period of 10 years or even more, to give plenty of adjustment time. There could exemptions up to a certain amount (say, a median land value) for owner-occupied homes or perhaps just for seniors. After that transition, going forward, all land would pay according to what it’s worth. People will know this and will make their decisions accordingly.

            Untaxing improvements but up-taxing land incentivizes the highest and best use of precious space; spurs smart (denser) growth rather than sprawl and vacant lots; and produces many other good effects. Smarter growth , in turn, makes communities better places to live and work. 

            Land values, and thus the LVT payments in central locations would rise, but in more peripheral sites would drop, making those sites more affordable.  

      • Neil

        That article was interesting.  It seems a lot of areas could benefit from such a model, as long as they don’t allow the starting tax level to creep too high.  It makes sense to tax improvements less to stimulate economic growth, but taken too far it could still put a higher tax burden on those who simply can’t afford it.  As long as basic rates stay within reason, it sounds good.  For urban areas with artificially high property values, lots of vacant lots and unused buildings, it sounds great.  I have no problem with rational tax solutions to local problems.  

          I still take issue with the phrasing of “penalizing success.” There are cetainly places and times where it is a valid complaint, and I agree that sales taxes particularly can be regressive and harmful to all.  But as commonly (over-)used in politics, it’s nothing but a bullshit cop-out to push a general anti-tax sentiment without any real analysis or better plan.  You don’t want taxes so high on businesses that they can’t be competitive with out-of state or foreign competitors, but I rarely hear anyone address problems of the “commons”-one area where everyday taxpayers often take a big hit, while those most benefitting from the arrangement often don’t.  It gets annoying to see large companies constantly fighting to be allowed to avoid paying for the direct negative consequences of their success.  Some large industries create a lot of environmental damage that can lower property values, deplete local resources, and even spread health risks to uninvolved people, but don’t want to pay any extra tax to clean up the mess.  Locally, we have several large retailers wanting to put up very large, new shopping centers…but they don’t want to pay a fair share to put in and maintain street and highway/offramp upgrades or traffic signals which will be made necessary by the development.  Instead they want ALL of the local taxpayers to fund millions of dollars in improvements up front, that only some will use or benefit from, for the “gift” of having a new shopping center added to the existing tax base.  In a few cases, they even seek to move the store just outside of city limits, taking advantage of some local services like police, fire, busses, without putting in anything at all, then use this plan as “leverage” to get the deals and subsidies they want.  (Then they wonder why locals aren’t striking up the band to welcome them.)
        Sometimes certian kinds of “success” have consequences that have to be accounted for, and American businesses on the whole have done a great job of turning that conversation away from their own responsibilities. 

        Also, a progressive income tax is rational and fair, however much some may complain about “penalizing success”.  If we want a reasonably civilized society, then we have to maintain at least basics…education, public sanitation, police, fire protection, military etc.  While poorer people may use SOME public systems more than the rich,  these systems still benefit the richer members of society, and businesses making a profit, as much or more than they benefit the common low-middle-class wage earner.  Literate employees trained in basic skills, lack of disease, protection of property and life from fire, crime, disaster, invasion, roads to use for commerce, airports, bridges, levees…the richer people and business owners who might be able to afford their own private armies are still benefitting from these services more than the average wage earner, and they  can and should pay more. (How much more is always open to debate and modification, but in a society with large income gaps, it’s going to be a much higher percentage-that’s the cost of having a society that allows for such freedom in the first place)  Without common resources and infrastrucure, some poor people would be much worse off, yes…but large scale industry and many other businsses wouldn’t even be possible, and there wouldn’t be the opportunity to create jobs or make a profit in the first place.  It seems to me that in America, a lot of people don’t want to pay enough to maintain the free market that they depend upon, but instead expect their employees and customers to gratefully do that, too.   
                

  • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

    I read a blog post a while back, I forget where, which said (I’m paraphrasing): people who have just left churches are the worst tippers and cheapest spenders of any demographic group. They tip even worse than the very elderly on fixed incomes. So why would any city want to have churches bring people to the community as a means of raising money for local businesses?

  • dagobarbz

    A mega-church here, The Rock, is the subject of complaint every Sunday, as traffic jams up in surrounding neighborhoods, parking is impossible, and people can’t shop at the area stores because of the nonstop traffic jam.

    So The Rock defends itself clumsily by pointing at the “thousands of hours of community service” they provide.

    Only many of those hours are spent directing traffic around a mess they caused in the first place!

  • Sue Blue

    In my tiny town of only 7,000 people, there are at least fifteen churches.  Four of these churches are within a few miles of my home and are large, located on huge lots of at least several acres.   Three of these churches have large school complexes attached, with accompanying property.  The amount of revenue our town and county must be losing on these properties is probably huge.  Not only that, but the county is actually paying these churches to rent part of their huge parking lots as Park and Ride lots for ferry and bus commuters.  The churches also rent out their lots for use during public events such as parades, fairs, etc. – and they’re not cheap.  The town and county also have to pay for the school zone crosswalks, lights, and traffic signs.
     Recently there was a shooting/hostage incident in town that brought out our entire police force of three officers.  The gunman was eventually shot, requiring that all officers involved be put on leave while the use of force was investigated.  So, for a week, our town had no police on duty.  There used to be more police officers, including a canine unit, before economic hard times hit and they were laid off, along with firefighters and EMTs.  Now we’re left with nothing but churches.  I have to say I wouldn’t be too heartbroken if one of them burned down because there were no firefighters available; but it IS heartbreaking to think of what might happen to family homes or accident and crime victims thanks to these religious tax loopholes.


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