Mormon Church Gives Tax Rebates to Residents of Small Illinois Town

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July 19, 2013; Quincy Herald-Whig


The competition between local governments and community non-profits for scarce resources is being played out once again, this time in a small town in Illinois, some 200 miles southwest of Chicago on the Iowa border.

The town is Nauvoo, and the nonprofit is the Mormon Church (also known as the Church of Latter Day Saints, or LDS). Nauvoo property owners received rebate checks from the LDS as a partial refund on higher taxes paid this year after a change in the church’s tax status on its holdings in town.

Some church properties had been exempt from property taxes, but since the 1960s, the church has paid taxes on its extensive holdings of other properties in the area, even though churches are exempt from paying property tax on religious properties. However, this year the church petitioned the state and county to apply the exemption on all its properties, which was granted quickly.

Tax exemptions for churches are common, but the impact was great in Nauvoo—the properties in question comprised nearly 20 percent of the total assessed valuation in the town, which resulted in $4.6 million less in revenue for the city. The exemption also affected the local school district, which received roughly 4 percent of its $3.2 million budget from taxes on the properties.

Aware of the impact, the church offered to make an annual payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, to help offset the loss of tax revenue to the city and the school district. But because the State of Illinois processed the exemption so quickly, local property owners had already been hit with higher taxes. So, instead of sending a PILOT to the city, the church this year sent payments directly to property owners to offset the tax hike. Future payments will be made to the city.

“I always hate to lose [assessed valuation], which means a smaller base against which ongoing expenditures have to be based,” said the City Council’s finance chair, “The church has a significant impact on the community because of the large numbers of visitors that come in, but the fact is we’re doing infrastructure for eight or 10 times that amount depending on what’s going on.”

While this situation was worked out amicably, and satisfied both the local government and nonprofit, it is illustrative of the continuing tension between municipalities needing the financial resources to maintain basic services and invest in their communities’ futures, and the nonprofits dedicated to providing human—and in this particular case, spiritual—support and services for the very same population.—Larry Kaplan

  • Anthony

    The name of the church is actually, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint. They are also known as Mormons. This specific organization has been all about relief in ever sense of the word. They are always at every disaster relief throughout the world and they are always quiet about it. The church members are volunteers and show their belief and faith in Christ, by emulating Him and expressing love to everyone regardless of who they are, where they come from or what other individuals believe. I have seen great things from this church and I would say they are the most Christian people on the planet.

    So, I know you wrote this article and thought you were giving them commendations, but when you attribute little details like the name of the Church, I think it is of great value to mention that they do have the name Jesus Christ in the church & they act accordingly to the name of His church. 🙂 Thanks.

  • Pete

    Thanks, Anthony, for pointing out the correct name of the church. Sometimes it seems like such a little thing, but a name is an important attribute.

    There are other facts that ought to be shared… When the Temple was built in 2000-2002, the church kicked in significant funding to pay for infrastructure improvements that the entire town benefited from. The church invested $470,000 up-front, and paid for a city planner for two years.

    The author mentions the influx of money to the local economy due to LDS tourists. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of this. A simple study could be done to evaluate tourist vs. non-tourist income. I don’t have hard facts, but this I do know – most remote towns of 1000-1200 population will have 2-3 places to eat. The last time I was in Nauvoo, the number was closer to 7-8. This might give some indication.

    It is not all rosy, though, and I will be the first to agree. With the significant influx of members of the LDS church, long term residents have concerns. To some it appears that the “Church is taking over,” however it must be clear that the Church does not proceed without village council approval. Some will say that LDS guests are arrogant – this bothers me as we should all behave like our Father’s children.

  • Greg Davies

    Please note the the actual name of the church is “The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints.” You omitted the most important part of the name!

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed Mormons) has invested millions of dollars in restoring and rebuilding many of the historic structures built originally in the 1840s by the original Mormon founders of Nauvoo, including the temple. The historic homes and meeting halls, bakery and workshops are staffed by Mormon volunteers. During the summer tourist season, Mormons perform a musical pageant as well as smaller performances telling the story of how the Mormons arrived as refugees from persecution in Missouri and formed what was the largest city in Illinois at the time, before abandoning it all due to renewed persecution, and set out to settle in the middle of the west. The arrival of the first refugees from Nauvoo into Salt Lake valley on July 24, 1847 is celebrated today by a miles-long parade in Salt Lake. Some forty years ago the Mormons returned to Nauvoo and began the historical recreation that is now a mainstay of the local economy, drawing in tourists, including many of America’s six million Mormons. It is the envy of many small towns along the Mississippi.

    Compare this with many towns that host military bases, which also pay no state or local taxes. The government makes payments to school districts that serve military families. By contrast, the LDS volunteers at Nauvoo do not bring children to local schools. Then there are the vast Federal lands across 70% of the western states that pay no taxes nor produce revenues in communities, except for a few prominent national parks.

  • Danite

    As Americans we should be rigorous in demanding that churches of all faith traditions should pay property taxes on their holdings. It goes to separating the interests of Church and State. Tithed money should likewise not be considered as a charitable contribution, nor should any special interest group be allowed to be tax exempt. The pool of money that we as a society use to protect the poor should not be depleted by groups with their own narrow agendas. It robs us all of the ability to more fairly and equitably distribute needed resources for the good of more than the few these groups deem worthy of their charity.

    I find it distasteful that those who have posted above are trying hard to sound like they are not LDS members when clearly they are…why is the deception?

  • Danite

    Raymond, Nauvoo is a wonderful place to visit. I made my first trip there in 1979 and have gone there many times since. You should really take the time to talk to local folks who live there the next time you go. There is a real tension between them and the LDS presence especially after the re-construction of the LDS Temple. Housing prices shot up as a number of Mormons decided it would be fun to come from out west and relocate there or to just buy a Summer house. This in turn drove up property values and taxes increased on many who were life-long residents on fixed incomes. High fuel prices have sharply declined the number of tourists to Nauvoo for a number of years now. Some of the local restaurants have gone out of business and others are on the brink of doing so. Schools have been closed in the area and the economy is close to collapse in that region. Some LDS tourists are just rude to non-Mormons. An LDS acquaintance of mine told me the story a couple of years ago about a Mormon who abandoned their shopping cart full of food and left a local business when they found out the store owner wasn’t a member of the True Church. Another woman who lives there told me she heard a noise outside and saw an RV parked next to her garden and a woman picking some of her roses. She went out to see what this woman was thinking about and was told, “Well, my ummpy um grandfather owned this property in the 1840s, so I decided to take some flowers for my RV.” The sense of spiritual entitlement that so many of these tourists and transplanted Mormons have really gets under the skin of the local gentiles.

    Another big issue though is the attitude of the LDS Church towards Nauvoo. In the eyes of the Mormons the only history that matters is the early to mid 1840s. Commerce (which was later renamed Nauvoo) existed before the Mormons and long afterwards. Native American culture goes back nearly 10,000 years as was demonstrated again in this year’s archaeological investigations conducted at the Joseph and Lucy (Mack) Smith’s log home site across the street from the Mansion House. Historic homes and businesses are not valued unless they can be traced to Mormon occupation during the the Nauvoo period of LDS history and that is a slap in the face to those who value ALL of Nauvoo’s history.

  • Sloagm

    Good article. Some minor errors but overall shows that leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are trying to operate equitably and be good neighbors. I am sure that some visitors are arrogant. Heck some members of my ward are arrogant. Some people I work with are arrogant. Some of my neighbors are arrogant. No members of the mormon church are perfect, and as tourists they may be more so. Certainly no more arrogant than any other kind of tourist and hopefully less so.

    The story in the comment section about a person not wanting to buy groceries from a non-mormon store owner is ridiculous to say the least. So is the supposed insensitivity of the tourists to other non-mormon town history. That is like getting mad at people that travel to Washington DC or Philly because they are primarily interested in the history of the founding fathers. I am not denying that there are surely a lot of rude mormon tourists but it may also be that the residents simply see these tourists as annoying because they do not share the same narratives and values and as a result are more quick to be judgmental and impatient. This is not unique to Nauvoo either. Any tourist town has a “locals” mentality built in at some level where any outsider is an annoyance.

  • Brock Lovett

    It is impressive to me how willing the Mormon church is , and how generous–in keeping the peace with the locals. They have a reputation for paying their own way.