VALPARAISO | Preachit Inc. is no longer defending itself as a church to maintain tax exempt status on its $1.1 million property in rural Porter Township.
Instead, attorneys for Preachit President and Pastor James Smith argued for two hours Thursday the nonprofit corporation is a religious society.
Smith appeared before the Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals with different attorneys than last month.
The three members of the board will decide whether they agree with the definition presented Thursday. The board also will determine if the tax exempt status should cover not only the portion of the 8,746-square-foot home used as corporate offices but also the more than 6,000 square feet used as a parsonage by Smith and his wife. Smith said the business use extends on occasion into the residence.
Board President Joe Wszolek said a decision could come during the group's next meeting Feb. 25.
The Porter County assessor's office initiated an inquiry into the 36-acre site at 234 W. County Road 166 South after it was discovered a religious exemption had been granted in 2009 for part of the site and no property taxes are being paid on any of it. The property includes a two-story house, pond and two barns.
Preachit officials presented a nearly 15-minute video Thursday detailing the group's work to provide pastors with sermons and aid Christian ministries in their faith and social services efforts around the world.
The group argued last month that while it may not appear as a church in the traditional sense, it does meet the requirements of a church under the law.
While that approach was abandoned Thursday, Smith made a similar argument when asked by the board if he holds worship services. He said he does, but went on to say worship takes various forms here and elsewhere around the world, where he has traveled as part of his missionary and social service work.
During the hearing last month, it was revealed that Preachit purchased a former restaurant and health club building at 2352 U.S. 30 in Valparaiso in October for $700,000.