State denies tax break to Inspiration Networks

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By Chris Sardelli

INDIAN LAND – Inspiration Networks is facing another hurdle this week as the state of South Carolina has now denied the organization’s request for tax-exemption status.

With this revelation, the faith organization may now be required to pay taxes on its 90-acre Indian Land campus, the City of Light, as well as any property inside the buildings.

Inspiration Networks is appealing the decision.

The news comes only weeks after the faith organization came under fire for reports it failed to honor a development deal it signed with Lancaster County. This involved the construction of promised for-profit buildings on the campus, including a television studio and entertainment facility.

Adrienne Fairwell, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Revenue, said the issue is ongoing.

“As far as the department is concerned, we can’t comment,” Fairwell said. “They (Inspiration Networks) are in the appeal process right now, and we don’t discuss any information when there’s an appeal with a specific case.”

Fairwell said the state has the right to deny tax-exempt status if an organization doesn’t follow the “strict construction” of the state’s tax laws. The number of tax exemptions that can be given to an organization are determined by Article 12, Chapter 37 of the state tax code. Fairwell said there is no timeline for the appeal process.

Keith Tunnell, president of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp., said he was not aware of how the state made its decision.

County Auditor Cheryl Morgan’s office has already sent out a personal property return to Inspiration Networks. Now that the organization isn’t considered tax-exempt, Morgan said all furniture and equipment inside its buildings in Indian Land would be taxable.

Inspiration Networks is required to calculate the personal property tax amount for each item inside its buildings, and then send the form back to Morgan’s office within 60 days. If it’s not received by that time, amounts will be estimated by the auditor’s office and put on the county’s accounting books.

Morgan believes the extra revenue from these taxes could be crucial for the county.

“Considering we lost the Springs Global plant, any addition is needed these days,” she said.

Preliminary work assessing Inspiration Networks’ land and buildings has already been completed by the county assessor’s office as well.

County Assessor Norman Anderson said his office has already examined the organization’s property three times and will appraise it. This means the property will be taxable this year unless a court decision is rendered about the appeal by the tax bill deadline, which is Oct. 1.

“We won’t put it on tax books until the last-minute,” Anderson said. “But the process could take years.”

As for the amount of property taxes Inspiration Networks may have to pay, Anderson said the maximum taxable amount would be more than $800,000. But he said that is based on the $56.5 million Inspiration Networks had reported with the state commerce department, and is not the amount Anderson would use in his appraisal.

“I’m sure we couldn’t tax it that high,” he said. “We do our own appraisal and it wouldn’t be that high.”

County Council members Fred Thomas and Rudy Carter, chairman and vice-chairman respectively of council,  met with representatives from Inspiration Networks at a recent council meeting.

Thomas and Carter said the discussion mostly involved the organization’s development agreement with the county, though no requests have been made to amend the agreement.

County Administrator Steve Willis said the county is aware of the state’s position and will be waiting until the end of the appeal process.

“We’ve taken the position that we’ll follow whatever the state says,” Willis said.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416