In Columbus, the tax man cometh

An Ohio pastor’s insistence that an FFRF billboard be moved off church property in Columbus has backfired. Shortly after Columbus athe¬ist Dylan Galos’ “Coming Out of the Closet” billboard stating “I can be good without God” went up in late June, Rev. Way¬mon Malone Jr. of Christ Ca¬thedral Church said it had to go, and it was moved to a new location.

After researching property and tax records, FFRF sent a letter July 7 to ask Franklin County Auditor Clarence Min¬go to look into the situation. Had Christ Cathedral ever paid taxes on the commercial portion of the property as re¬quired by law? Did the church misrepresent the intended use of the property when applying for a tax exemption in 1997?

Christ Cathedral is located at 3350 Allegheny Ave. The billboard was located behind the church, facing Stelzer Road.

“We have enclosed your of¬fice’s summary of the property that lists $0 in annual taxes on the property and its classifica¬tion as ‘exempt,’ “ FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor noted in the letter.

“Additionally, we have pro¬vided a copy of Christ Cathe¬dral Church’s application for exemption that was com¬pleted by Mr. Malone in 1997. When asked how the property was being used, Mr. Malone said, ‘for a church.’ On the form, Mr. Malone also stated that the property was not be¬ing leased or rented to anyone else, was not used to produce any income other than dona¬tions, and that no one else was using the property other than the applicant.”

Mingo responded July 20 that his staff would look into it. A few days later, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott got a phone call from a member of Mingo’s staff. “He said that the billboard prop¬erty will be taxed. It is approximately one-tenth of an acre that will be taxed at a yearly rate of $186.”

Further investigation

FFRF further inquired in an Aug. 1 letter to Mingo about the churchowned property at 407 Stelzer Road that’s directly behind the billboard. It was purchased for $550,000 and is receiving a tax exemption. Several private businesses lease most of the building. Gaylor wrote, “We request that you investigate the church’s use of these properties, as we believe that large portions do not fall within the religious tax exemption statute under Ohio [law].”

Gaylor also noted that Teach & Learn Child Care, AMC Realty and AMC Transport, all with listed addresses at 407 Stelzer Road, are headed by Anthony Malone, who FFRF believes may be related to Pastor Malone. In an Aug. 5 Columbus Dispatch story, Auditor’s Office spokesman Dave O’Neil confirmed that the tenth of an
acre would go on the tax rolls. He also said that Christ Cathedral owed $1,645 in 2010 taxes for the commercial portion of 407 Stelzer Road. The bill, with interest and fines, is now $1,900. Malone said he forgot to pay the taxes. Malone told the Dispatch he doesn’t know why FFRF is going after his church. He claimed he donates all
billboard income to the church and didn’t think he had to pay land taxes. [Interestingly, all 11 reader comments on the online news story took the church to task for not paying taxes.]

Due to Ohio statute, back taxes on the billboard land can’t be collected. FFRF thanks Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott and intern Ash Khosrowshahi for their work on this  complaint.

Freedom From Religion Foundation