Statesboro city council members will consider this morning whether to approve a memorandum of understanding with First Baptist Church, in which the city would provide labor for extending a 10-inch water line from the intersection of Hill and Oak Streets to the new church sanctuary.
We believe council members should not approve the memorandum for two primary reasons:
1. It would set a bad precedent of using taxpayer money that essentially would invite any church to request city assistance for capitol projects.
2. As a non-profit religious organization, First Baptist Church is exempt from paying taxes, so the city would not recoup its outlay.
First Baptist Church is one of the oldest and largest in Statesboro and is a tremendous asset to the community. Presently, it is in the middle of an $11-million project to build a new sanctuary and improve the grounds around the church. The congregation is so dedicated they pledged $4.4 million during the month of May to pay for part of the project up front, including more than $1 million on the final Sunday of the campaign.
The church is not only a great source of spiritual guidance to thousands of area residents, it also provides civic outreach to the needy in Statesboro and helps numerous individuals and groups. First Baptist is a cornerstone of our community.
But, on varying levels of scale, the same can be said about dozens of churches in Statesboro. And while all are worthy of our admiration, none should receive the benefit of taxpayer money for a private church project.
Council Member Will Britt said there is no precedent for the city funding a church project in the past. And there is a good reason for that beyond the separation of church and state provision in our Constitution. Very simply, how could the city say no to any request from a church in the city limits if it says yes to First Baptist? Do council members really want to get into weighing the value of one church project over another and deciding which churches receive taxpayer money and which don't?
We believe the answer to that is easy: no.
Also, giving incentives like tax breaks and fee reductions to lure businesses to locate in a city or county makes long term sense. A successful business eventually will pay its full share of property taxes and sales taxes. Its employees, too, will contribute to the tax base.
On the other hand, First Baptist and all churches are tax exempt, so whatever labor the city gives to a church now or in the future can never be recouped in tax payments.
An estimate of $44,000 is specified in the memorandum for what the labor would cost to put in the water line. Regardless, with employees furloughed and departments downsized, the city of Statesboro should not open the door of donating services paid for by taxpayers to churches. We urge council members to vote no to the memorandum of understanding with First Baptist Church.