By MADDY VITALE
City Council approved a repayment of more than $18,000 to Tabernacle Baptist Church after it regained its tax exempt status.
During a remote Council meeting Monday afternoon, the governing body passed a resolution to refund the money that the church paid for 2019 and 2020 taxes.
Tabernacle Baptist Church regained its tax-exempt status following a judge’s ruling that the sale of the church to its former pastor was “illegitimate.”
The church, which is the oldest surviving church in Ocean City dating back to 1908, fell behind in back taxes to the tune of approximately $8,700 it owed for 2019 and $9,700 for 2020 and was threatened with a tax sale.
City Council President Bob Barr spoke after the council meeting about a community wide effort to raise funds, mostly from private donors, to pay the money owed for the church, which is located at the corner of Eighth Street and West Avenue.
Barr, and Councilman Pete Madden and Councilman Keith Hartzell met to discuss ways to raise money for the church. It was a day after a November Council meeting where a president of the church’s Board of Trustees Shari Thompson spoke of the court ruling.
“We worked together and raised the money and took the money down to the tax office. Keith Hartzell was the driving force on this,” Barr noted, adding that it was before they knew that they could do the resolution on the payment.
He continued, “I think this is an example of the community coming together to do for the church. It is what Ocean City does in a time of need. On the city side, we were able to do what we could. We didn’t want it to go to a sheriff sale.”
It took a week or 10 days to raise the money around Thanksgiving.”
Now, the funds that went back to the church will be used to make necessary repairs to it, Barr added. “It is my understanding that money, or a portion of it, will go toward repairing the church.”
While churches normally have tax-exempt status, Tabernacle Baptist came under private ownership in March 2019 during a sale of the property to Pastor Charles Frazier, who has since died.
The board of trustees regained ownership of the property in December 2019 after it filed a lawsuit against Frazier challenging the sale.
But when it was under private ownership, it lost its tax-exempt status and the city had to impose property taxes on the church. Superior Court Judge Michael Blee ruled in the fall to allow the church to regain its tax-exempt status.
For the last meeting of 2020, Council members held a brief meeting and aside from the church resolution, they voted on general housekeeping matters.
Some of them summed up their hopes for 2021 and feelings about the past year living in a pandemic.
“Let’s make next year a much happier one,” said Council Vice President Michael DeVlieger.
In closing, Barr said, “Happy New Year. This past year certainly was not what we envisioned, but hopefully 2021 will be one we are more accustomed to.”