Sunday, March 05, 2006

Christian TV Empire Savors A Tax Blessing

Trinity Brodcasting Network raking in mountains of cash...
Christian TV Empire Savors A Tax Blessing

Christian TV empire savors a tax blessing

— A ruling that means Sumner County and the city must refund the theme park-like Trinity Broadcasting Network complex here more than $300,000 in taxes ends an 11-year skirmish and gives the colorful owners much of what they’ve wanted — status as a church.
Under an administrative judge’s decision approved by a state commission last month, televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch have the state’s blessing to stop paying property taxes on their auditorium. It is familiar to millions of TBN viewers worldwide as one location of the Praise the Lord show, a glitz-filled mix of prayer, musical entertainment and requests for money.

Their land also includes the home of the late country music great Conway Twitty and his Twitty City spread.
The Crouches didn’t get a wholesale property tax exemption. TBN must continue to pay on several other parcels found past the ribbon-like entrance banner proclaiming “Trinity Music City USA,” including the Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh Gift Shop, Solid Rock Bistro and the Twitty mansion.

“Obviously, we were hoping for 100% across the board, because Trinity is a church, but we understood the judge’s ruling and we have no objection to it,” said TBN attorney John Casoria, speaking from the international headquarters in Tustin, Calif.

Paul Crouch, son of Assemblies of God missionaries, founded TBN in 1973, taking over a struggling television station in Santa Ana, California to spread the gospel. He and his wife, Jan, hit upon on-air “Praise-a-Thons” in which they praised the Lord, played music and pleaded for donations to stay afloat and grow.
To get the message out, the couple still uses a blend of the Bible, entertainment and fundraising. The impassioned Jan Crouch has always been a standout beside her thin, business-like husband, with her waterfall of ultra-blonde hair, thick eye makeup and frequent tears.

From its base in California, TBN expanded to Tennessee with the Sumner County purchase in 1994; its broadcast center drew visitors, recording studios were set up and the company made plans for a theater.

The Crouches found that the Twitty home continued to draw country music fans, so they capitalized on that, too, to reach people. Tours there continued, and a small section of the complex’s gift shop, which includes inspirational books and videos, Bible-carrying dolls, glow-in-the-dark mugs and vitamins, also features Twitty shirts and postcards.

In the beginning, according to Sumner County Executive Hank Thompson and media reports at the time, Paul Crouch accepted an “entertainment” zoning for the property when TBN moved in and agreed to pay taxes.
Then the Crouches asked for a sign.

TBN wanted a highway sign to point visitors toward the complex, just as Twitty City had. But the Tennessee Department of Transportation said no, that churches don’t get signs.

Thompson said he went with Paul Crouch to try to change TDOT Commissioner Bruce Saltsman’s mind, but they got nowhere.

He had pointed out that religion-based schools have signs, he said, and that this is a religious entertainment center that draws a hoard of money-spending visitors who could use directions.
Paul Crouch, he said, thought the government couldn’t have it both ways: either TBN paid taxes as an entertainment complex and got a sign or it shouldn’t have to pay taxes. Thompson said he agreed.
“They did what they had agreed to do,” said Thompson, who was Hendersonville’s mayor when TBN settled here. “They were paying. They were being good neighbors. They were fulfilling their agreement.
“It’s the worst example of the state not using common sense I’ve run into in 25 years,” said Thompson.
“The sign is what drove them over the edge, I think.”
TBN filed a request for exemptions as a church...
In October of 1995, however, Paul Crouch told The Tennessean:
“I wouldn’t even have asked for the tax exemption if the highway department had been fair with us and let us have a highway sign.”

A refund of about $300,000 won’t make a loud splash in the coffers of TBN, whose most recently available 990 IRS form shows it took in just over $184.3 million in revenues in 2003. Expenses totaled almost $113.2 million, meaning an excess of about $71.1 million for the year.

It held at least $311.6 million in securities in its investment portfolio, which included foreign television stations, an oil lease and a recreational vehicle park.

Casoria called the estimated $300,000 property tax refund “acceptable and fair” but said Tennessee’s laws are “probably one of the most stringent” of the states TBN deals with...
Trinity Brodcasting Network raking in mountains of cash...
Christian TV Empire Savors A Tax Blessing