After hearing from ministers and city council members, Greenwood’s mayor is withdrawing a proposal that would have charged a fee to nonprofits and churches that expanded or built facilities in certain parts of the city.
The proposed fee was planned to come up for its final vote by the city council Monday. But on Thursday night, Mayor Mark Myers emailed city council members and asked that the proposal be removed from the agenda.
“I don’t want this to put a division between the city and the public,” Myers said. “With the amount of controversy this has caused, I don’t think it’s good for the community or the city council, so I have asked the council to take it off the agenda.”
But Myers isn’t killing the idea, nor is he giving up on the chance that it might one day be approved. For now, he wants it off the agenda. But he said he plans to revisit the proposal later, after talking to officials in other communities, such as Noblesville, to figure out how they were able to get support for a similar fee in their community.
The proposal the city has been considering would have required nonprofit organizations and churches that move into or expand in one of the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts to pay a fee equal to what the city would have collected in property taxes if they weren’t tax exempt.
Myers said the city needed to collect the money in order to protect the city’s investment in TIF districts, which are centered around the municipal airport, downtown, Fry Road, east of Interstate 65 and the east side of the city.
The fee is meant to direct nonprofit and tax-exempt groups to build or expand in areas outside TIF districts, unless they’re willing to pay the fee, city attorney Krista Taggart said.
But opponents of the proposal, including at least three local churches, said the fee would be a burden on churches and that requiring them to pay it potentially could force them to close or hurt their operations.
In August, the city council approved the fee 6-2 but then had a tied vote of 4-4 two weeks later, stalling the motion. Next week, the tax was set to come up for a final vote and would have gone into effect if approved.
Council members Mike Campbell, Thom Hord, Bruce Armstrong and Ron Bates voted against the measure.
Last month, Point Church pastor Steve Rhoades asked the council to not enact a new fee. Since the fee was proposed, Rhoades and fellow clergy met with Myers and discussed a proposed amendment that would grandfather all current nonprofit organizations, including churches, excluding them from paying a fee if they built on at their current property or added to their current building.
But local church pastors still expressed concerns.
Rhoades said he was concerned that any church that located in TIF district would be subject to legal action if it couldn’t pay the fee.
“We have good churches filled with good people; and if the proceedings of a lawsuit on a church began to take place, it would not pass the popular test,” Rhoades said. “If it can lead to lawsuits against churches, then I can’t be for it.”
Myers said that the city could not discriminate between nonprofits if they didn’t pay the fee. The agreements would have been legal contracts between the nonprofit and the city, Taggart said.
Rhoades said he understood how the fee would benefit local government, but including churches with other nonprofits just doesn’t make sense.
Doug Caister, a pastor at Sanctuary Community Church, said the fee would be a burden on churches and that even with the amendment he would oppose it.
The proposed amendment helped gain supporters and lessen concerns, but the proposal still had caused too much controversy, Myers said. He talked with a few city council members and ultimately decided that the proposal was causing a rift among city council members and the community, he said.
“I am concerned that this has caused too much controversy in the city and within the city council,” Myers said in an email to city council members.
“My intent was not and is not to put an undue burden on our churches as I am very much aware of the good they provide for our city. I now believe that this has caused too much controversy and ill feelings, not only with the city council, but also the public.”
Rhoades said he was happy with the mayor’s decision to withdraw the proposal.
“I am pleased to find the affirmation of what I already thought about our mayor and what he and the city believe about our churches and the respect they have for us,” Rhoades said. “I believe the mayor is a fair individual. We want our city to be progressive economically, but we want to be a part of that. I hope we can accomplish that together.”
The Greenwood City Council had been considering a fee for churches and other nonprofit organizations to help fund government.
What: Greenwood City Council meeting
Where: Greenwood City Center, 300 S. Madison Ave.
Time: 7 p.m. Monday