County owes Trinity $300K

The News Examiner, Tennessee/March 2, 2006
By Katrina Cornwell

Sumner County will have to pay Trinity Broadcasting Network more than $300,000 property taxes by order of the Assessment Appeals Commission of the state Board of Equalization.

The Feb. 9 certificate from the appeals commission ends a decade-long dispute over the taxable status of the self-styled “electronic” church, which bought the former Twitty City complex in Hendersonville in March of 1994 for $10 million.

That certificate finalized Administrative Law Judge Pete Loesch’s Oct. 25 ruling that Trinity Broadcasting deserves partial tax-exempt status as a religious organization.

Sumner County Tax Assessor John Isbell said he doesn’t know yet how much the county will have to pay out for the refund, but he told The News Examiner it was a six-digit number.

“There’s no final number yet,” Isbell said, adding he’s working with an attorney representing Trinity Broadcasting Network on that matter. “We’re going back and forth trying to get all the numbers. It can end up being a substantial amount of money.”

Trinity Broadcasting attorney John Casoria said he’s been directly involved in those negotiations and he gave The News Examiner a rough estimate of the refund his clients would receive.

“We appreciate the county working with us in having our property properly assessed and we look forward to receiving our refund in a timely manner,” Casoria said. “It’s in excess of $300,000. That’s over the course of several years.”

An administrative law judge accepted the testimony of Trinity Broadcasting general manager Renee Brewer that TBN devoted its auditorium exclusively for worship services and other church-related activities since 1998, records show.

The appraised value of the parcel including the auditorium and two other buildings receiving a partial tax exemption for certain tax years and a full tax exemption for others is $5.2 million, according to the county’s real estate appraisal records. Taxes are levied on the assessed value of the property, which is about $2 million.

Trinity Broadcasting has paid $378,333.91 in property taxes on this parcel since 1998, the first tax year referenced in the appeals assessment commission’s certificate.

The religious organization originally applied for tax-exempt status on July 20, 1995, according to a previously published report. On March 22, 1996, the Board of Equalization essentially denied the application, stating that only 11 percent of the operation classified as a religious function, the report states.

The organization appealed the decision in November 1996 and the administrative law judge ruled that the California-based non-profit religious broadcasting corporation was exempt from a portion of its property taxes and personal property taxes for the 1995, 1996 and 1997 tax years.

Meanwhile, the board of equalization considered Trinity’s second application for tax exemption in May 1998 and its appeal for tax-exempt status for the years 1998 and 1999 and future tax years.

Hendersonville Star News editor Cheryl Tatum contributed information to this report.

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