MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — A Roman Catholic church rectory in the northwest Indiana town of Merrillville might lose its tax-exempt status because a politician moved in to save money at the invitation of the pastor.
Deputy Lake County Assessor Terryl Bish has formally requested that the county auditor remove the tax-exempt status of the white brick, three-bedroom rectory valued at $179,000 that formerly served as the residence for priests at St. Joan of Arc Parish.
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub and his wife moved from their home of 49 years in neighboring Schererville and into the rectory last October at the invitation of the Rev. Roy Beeching, a friend of Scheub and pastor at St. Join and nearby Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Beeching lives at the other parish’s rectory.
“If nothing else changes, this will go back on the property tax rolls,” Bish told The Times of Merrillville.
Ingrid Long, financial manager for St. Joan of Arc, sent County Attorney Paul Karras a letter this week confirming Scheub has been residing at rectory “as an acting caretaker.” She said it had been unoccupied since a previous pastor transferred to another parish.
Scheub, who will be 75 this fall, said he was trying to reduce his living expenses. He also owns a farm near Culver. He said he pays the church a monthly donation for use of the rectory and has painted it some and repaired the house’s plumbing. He declined to say how much he pays the church.
Bish said the rectory has had a religious exemption from property taxes in the past. State law forbids taxing church buildings housing rabbis, priests, preachers, ministers or pastors as long as the residence isn’t used to make a profit.
Karras has aggressively pushed to limit the growth in tax exemption property by religious groups and other nonprofits, saying it unfairly shifts the burden of supporting schools and other government agencies onto other property owners.
Anne Verbeke, coordinator of parish pastoral councils for the Diocese of Gary, said she was certain that the money Scheub pays the parish would cover the taxes. She said other vacant rectories have been rented out.
“You are probably going to see more of it when we have empty rectories as one priest is assigned to several parishes. The biggest issue we have is not leaving the house vacant because then it becomes a real problem,” Verbeke said.