Tax refund delivered personally by governor State assessed church in error on lot

November 22, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Governor William Donald Schaefer came to a Westminster church yesterday bearing a gift from the state -- a $1,451 property tax refund.

The drums rolled as the congregation of Union Street United Methodist Church stood and clapped for the governor, who said he was "overwhelmed with the Lord" during the service.

After two legislative bills and a "sincere plea" from a Carroll County delegate, the governor a few months ago signed the bill allowing the state to refund the money. He said he wanted to deliver the check in person.

The small church filled with about 150 people reminded the governor of the one he had attended in his youth, he said as he addressed the congregation.

"This is a warm, happy family church," he said. "I listened when you all gave thanks for your blessings and families.

"Will we take home what we find here? Let us figure out ways to make it persevere."

The governor joined the congregation in singing several hymns. Along with the members, he smiled and gently tapped his foot as the Men's Choir sang, "If You Want to See a Miracle, Just Look Around."

"I have gone to many African-American churches in my 38 years in public life and I always get a warm feeling," said the governor.

"There is no church like yours when it comes to singing. You put your heart and soul into it and it reverberates."

During his address, Mr. Schaefer briefly related the saga of the tax error and gave credit to Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, a lifelong member of Union Street Methodist.

The state had erroneously assessed taxes on a vacant church-owned lot for 11 years.

"The elders here thought if the state sent a bill, the state must be right," said a smiling Mr. Dixon.

The church paid taxes on the adjacent lot without questioning, until the delegate discovered the error a few years ago. The state readily returned three years' worth of payments, said Mr. Dixon, but getting the remainder required legislative action. His 1992 bill for the refund passed the legislature but not the governor.

"The governor didn't want to set a precedent," said Mr. Dixon.

Undeterred, Mr. Dixon reintroduced his bill this year. Resolute, the governor said he planned to use his veto a second time.

After meeting with the delegate privately, Mr. Schaefer said he decided to set precedent aside.

"I saw his sincerity and perseverance," said the governor. "This money is for a church, and the people can use it."

During their meeting, Mr. Schaefer said he would sign the bill and promised a personal check delivery. A beaming Mr. Dixon escorted the governor to the front pew yesterday and sat beside him during the two-hour service.

Mr. Schaefer earned hearty laughter when he said he nearly introduced the delegate as "Rev. Dixon." The governor took the opportunity for a little politicking on behalf of a fellow Democrat.

"You have somebody you know and who can produce for you," he said of the long-time delegate. "He won't win [his seat] easily. He has to have your help."

The Rev. Joan E. Carter-Rimbach, pastor, prayed that the governor would "continue to be guided by God as he works for our state."

"It is not often that the church and state are on one accord," said the pastor with a smile.

Ms. Carter-Rimbach delivered a strong sermon on gratitude.

"We are blessed not because it is our inherent right, but because God has chosen to bless us," she said.

The pastor said preaching to the governor didn't make her any more nervous than usual.

"I am always nervous about preaching for anybody," she said. "It is a serious task which may change somebody's life. When I stop being nervous, I might stop preaching."

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