Just four days before Christmas a local church filed a lawsuit against the Bay County property appraiser and tax collector.
Faith Christian Family Church of Panama City Beach is suing Rick Barnett and Peggy Brannon for denying its request. Faith Christian Family Church owes more than $47,000 in local taxes for the senior pastor's multi-million dollar home according to the Bay County tax collector's office.
Rick Barnett, the Bay County property appraiser, says the home located in The Preserve on the bay is valued at $3.2 million and its taxes are not protected by Florida law.
"In the statutes it says it has to be used predominately for religious purposes. This is a 10,000 square foot home with a swimming pool, tennis court, three-car garage."
Barnett says a parsonage, which usually is a pastor's home, is exempt from property tax, but they need to meet a criteria set by the law. He says the main issue with Bishop's home is the accessibility to other church members, it sits in a gated community and still is gated at the perimeter of the property.
"This is probably one of the most valuable homes in Bay County. When you go to churches or parsonages, they're usually located on-site or nearby and they're very modest."
Bishop says he can respect Barnett for his reasons, but he will also respect their own rights as a church to be exempt from these taxes. He says he was surprised at the property appraiser's decision to deny their request, but they will now continue to take the necessary steps to get the exemption.
While the court process continues, the fines continue to increase with every month the taxes are late.