Local churches installing cell antennas to raise cash

Churches with units pay more in property taxes

SAN DIEGO - Local churches are getting more creative in the way they raise cash. More than 100 are disguising a moneymaker in their steeples and bell towers.

"The church tithe is down all denominations nationwide, so if they're able to get additional income so they can keep their church ministries going, that's a big help," said Chobby Betts, the head deacon at the Tiearrasanta Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Betts said they house cell receiver units on their building and the units blend right into the architecture. The church receives $1,500 a month from Verizon.

Two other units belong to AT&T and T-Mobile but the church no longer receives money from them.

"Last year, we sold off the lease so we got a lump sum which enabled us to pay off the church mortgage," said Betts.

It is a moneymaker on a tax-exempt property, but the property where the units hang is considered non-exempt and the government will collect.

"The 2012 property tax was a little over $10,000," said Betts.

The San Diego County Assessor's office told 10News there are 110 churches across the county with cell towers on their properties and all are required to let the county know.

"If you're exempted from taxes for any reason, like a church is, you have the same self-reporting requirement as a business does," said Ernie Dronenburg, who is with the San Diego County Assessor's Office.

Dronenburg said San Diego County churches have followed the rules because they are reimbursed by the cell phone companies for the amount of property taxes they pay.

That amount is based on how much money the church is receiving from the cell phone company.

"In most cases, it's a very, very small piece of property tax but it relates to the value of the business piece of property, the cell tower," said Dronenburg.

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