ROCKLAND, Maine — It’s been a month since the city demanded that Aldersgate United Methodist Church pay taxes on some of its land. Now church followers are thinking up ways to stay financially afloat while praying for the city they believe needs some Godly assistance.
The church’s pastor, Jacquelyn Brannen, said she and her 100 or so church members have so far ruled out going to court to resolve the tax issue. Instead, she said, the church on Lake View Drive might consider selling it’s parsonage, taking “other legal avenues” or giving its land to a conservation easement.
According to Brannen the Methodist church is not in financial ruin because of the more than $2,000 tax increase this year.
In 2010, the church paid about $4,700 in taxes on its 14 acres on Lake View Drive. Since then, the church has split its land into three segments: one for the church, one for the parking lot and one for the parsonage building. Because of the division, the assessed value increased, hiking the property taxes to a total of $6,780.
Maine law says churches and church-owned buildings used for worship can’t be taxed. But Rockland officials argue that the land around churches is fair game. This includes the church parking lot and surrounding land, which account for one-third of the church’s property taxes this year.
According to the city, the church is up-to-date with its taxes as of Friday. But it’s the long-term that the church is concerned about.
“We’re concerned with our own fiscal realities, but God has placed us here to serve our communities and we’re trying to figure out how to do all of this. We can’t leave this situation as it is right now,” Brannen said Friday. “It’s not about immediate solvency, this is more about long term and what does it mean. And frankly I think it’s important as far as our First Amendment rights.”
The Aldersgate United Methodist Church plans to hold a prayer vigil either at City Hall or at the church in the coming weeks in hopes of finding a solution.
“It will be a community of prayer time for the city of Rockland. We won’t be making any decisions at that time. We feel the city by making some of the decisions it has been making, that it obviously is in need of some Godly support and we’re worried about the moral tenor that is going on,” Brannen said. “Obviously a city without being mindful of the nonprofits and religious bodies that exists is really hurting itself. We’re concerned about that.”