Council Committee OKs Rolling Back Rules for Tax-Exempt Groups

Religious leaders say they are prepared to fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell | Photo Credit: City Counicil's Flickr

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell | Photo Credit: City Counicil’s Flickr

A Philadelphia City Council committee OKed a bill Monday that would roll back new rules aimed at ensuring that local nonprofits are eligible for the property tax breaks they receive.

The legislation, which was introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, would repeal a city law requiring nonprofits to verify annually that they are “purely public charities” and that they use their property for charitable purposes in order to retain a real estate tax exemption.

At a hearing on the legislation, critics said the new rules are onerous and violate the separation of church and state. The regulations went into effect for the first time this year.

“We are prepared to fight this intrusion in the affairs of the church all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Rev. Terrence Griffith. “We must fight this intrusion because if we don’t, soon preachers’ sermons will be censored and the free exercise of what we believe and stand for will determine whether we retain our exemption or not.”

Under Blackwell’s bill, a nonprofit would still have to verify that it is a “purely public charity” when it first applies for a property tax exemption.

Instead of doing away with the new rules altogether, chief assessment officer Michael Piper said the Nutter administration would prefer to tweak them. He said nonprofits should be required to verify their charitable status every three years, instead of every year.

Piper also said he does not oppose another proposal by Councilman David Oh to extend the filing deadline for the new requirements to June 1st.

Blackwell’s legislation will now go to the full Council for consideration.

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