About 70 acres and 17 buildings managed by the Firstfruits Foundation, owned by Christopher James of Challis, could lose their religious exemptions from paying property taxes after Custer district officials decided not to extend the exemptions this year.
As the county compensation committee, the commissioners re-evaluated James’ property at Living Waters Ranch after filing annual filings to continue exemptions. James is appealing the decision, according to Jacquel Bruno, the assessor for Custer County. If the county’s actions persist, Firstfruits’ estimated property and buildings would increase from approximately $ 750,000 to $ 2.8 million and James would be expected to pay proportionate property taxes.
James is seeking property tax exemption because Firstfruits is a nonprofit religious organization and such organizations are exempt from property tax if it can be demonstrated that the property will be used solely for religious purposes.
The question at Firstfruits, according to Custer County’s Assistant Clerk Tina Hawkins, is whether the properties surveyed brought James an income. If the property of a religious establishment is leased by the owner or if the owner uses the property for business or commercial purposes from which income is generated, the property must be illustrated and taxed according to state law.
If James used his previously exempt properties to make money, Hawkins said they didn’t qualify for charitable status. District commissioners sent an appraiser to Living Waters to examine and calculate the value of the general meeting room, some cabins for visitors to stay in, two lots, and several other lots.
James will have to take his case to the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals, Bruno said. Although state officials have not yet set a date for the hearing, the district assessor said that commissioners will also be there to explain their decision.