ABC Worries Churches Are Ruining Texas City's Finances

     Praise the Lord and pass the tax bill.

     The October 1 edition of ABC’s “World News Sunday” preached that the 51 houses of worship in Stafford, Texas, are a holy terror to the city’s finances, citing the mayor’s complaints about lack of tax revenue. But reporter Geoff Morrell left out that the city has already enacted more regulation to discourage churches and that at that beginning of the year, the mayor gave a very positive assessment of the city’s finances.

    “Just 18,000 people live in Stafford, Texas,” a suburb of Houston, but the town “is saying if you want to build a church, please do it somewhere else,” anchor Dan Harris introduced the story.

     “All these churches, which of course are tax-exempt, are gobbling up what little land is left here for commercial development,” Morrell added before warning that the mayor believes the glut of churches could “bust the budget.”

     Missing from Morrell’s story was the fact that the city already has moved to restrict churches – and other businesses in the process. As Lianne Hart of The Los Angeles Times reported on July 31, city leaders passed a law that “required those who wanted to build a church – and other public gathering places, such as bowling alleys and community halls – to undergo a rigorous review process and obtain City Council approval.”

     Morrell also neglected to include business leaders’ perspectives on the law and whether it might discourage businesses, not just churches, from locating to Stafford.

     What’s more, Mayor Leonard Scarcella’s page on the city Web site presents the city as “one of the strongest and most diverse economies per capita” in the Lone Star State, thanks in part to “the elimination of the city property tax.”

     Far from the negative tone Scarcella took in his appearance in Morrell’s story, neither the mayor’s 2006 State of the City Address nor his Fiscal Year 2005-2006 Budget Message warned of dangers to city revenue from too many houses of worship.

     In fact, Scarcella defended and praised the city’s 1995 elimination of property taxes as a key to the city’s economic success.

     “Fund balances have increased in multiples, assets have grown substantially, debt has been dramatically reduced, services have been significantly expanded and residents and companies have been enticed to enjoy the benefits and opportunities,” wrote Scarcella in his January 25 agenda-setting address to the city council.