Miami’s Oldest Church Forced to Pay $7.1 Million in Property Taxes for Leasing Space to For-Profit Christian School and Food Trucks

First Presbyterian Church of Miami | PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ PHILLIP PESSAR

The oldest Christian congregation in Miami is being forced to pay $7.1 million in property taxes after the county claimed that the church was leasing out part of its waterfront property to a for-profit Christian school and food trucks.

Surrounded by skyscrapers and just a few minutes drive from South Beach, First Presbyterian Church of Miami has filed two lawsuits as the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser recently issued the church a multi-million dollar tax lien.

The Miami Herald reports that First Miami, which was first founded in 1896, is currently housed in a 3.4-acre campus right off of the water in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood, which is also home to commercial office towers and luxury condominiums. The estimated worth of the property was reported at $66.3 million.

First Miami has used part of its campus for the operation of KeyPoint Christian Academy, a for-profit K-8 institution that has about 178 students and 45 teachers, since 2008. Additionally, the church rents out space to food trucks.

Considering that Florida Statute 196.196 indicates that only parts of the property used for religious, charitable, literary and scientific reasons are exempt from property taxation, the appraisers’ office received an anonymous tip through its website about the relationship between First Miami and KeyPoint Christian Academy.

The appraiser’s office deemed that the church violated its religious exemption status and issued a tax lien in the total of $6.5 million that includes interest and fines for the years 2009-2017. As well, the church is being charged just over $509,000 in property taxes for 2018.

However, First Miami is challenging the government agency’s claims and filed two complaints in court on Nov. 30 asking for a jury trial to determine whether or not church’s entire property should have a religious exemption from property taxes, according to the Miami Herald.

The academy is operated by an organization called International Schools of Brickell LLC and charges upwards of $16,000 in tuition. Yet, First Miami lists the school on its website as “our school.”

Additionally, the church’s lawsuit claims that International Schools of Brickell, an entity founded in 2013, only serves as a third-party administrator of the school.

In its lawsuit, the church accused the county of discrimination.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith