WOODLAND PARK • Christian evangelist Andrew Wommack agreed in 2012, when he envisioned creating a megacampus for his flourishing Bible college and nonprofit religious ministry in this small mountain town, to develop future student housing as a taxable private enterprise.
A decade later, as dorms are on the cusp of being built, Wommack wants out of the arrangement.
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Andrew Wommack Ministries and its Charis Bible College submitted paperwork on March 22 to Woodland Park's planning and building department requesting an amendment that would change the terms struck with city leaders in 2012.
“They were going to privatize student housing that would be subject to property tax, similar to what a private company would be,” said Woodland Park City Manager Michael Lawson. “Under that amended application, they would forgo property taxes, if that were to be approved.”
Under the existing planned-unit development, or PUD, the property tax revenue would be split between six taxing entities: the city, Teller County, and the local library, fire, ambulance and school districts.
Because the valuation of the student housing hasn’t yet been determined, Lawson said it’s also unknown how much property tax revenue could be collected from the proposed project.
Property tax collection on what has become a nearly 500-acre campus on the southwestern edge of city limits has caused consternation since Wommack decided to move Andrew Wommack Ministries, which he founded in 1978, and Charis Bible College which he founded in 1994, from Colorado Springs to Woodland Park in 2014, when he opened his campus called The Sanctuary.
Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District opposed Wommack's plan for the campus when it was first presented in 2012 because of the additional burden the growth would place on district's services, said Fire Chief Tyler Lambert.
Fire district leaders argued they needed property taxes to add more staff to address an expected jump in calls for service, or they wanted $80,000 to $100,000 a year in Payments in Lieu of Taxes — money to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable lands within the boundaries.
Now, Lambert said, "We're against the revision."
Nearly all the fire district’s $2.65 million annual budget comes from property tax revenue, he said.
Requests for assistance have increased by about 22%, or 475 additional calls annually between 2012 and 2022, Lambert said, which he “absolutely” attributes to needs of the Wommack campus.
“We run up there quite a bit — in the last month or two we’ve been up there five or six times, usually on medical-type calls,” he said. “In 2012, we needed seven personnel minimum, but we only have four to five to respond to incidents, so we’re still below staffing levels because we don’t have enough property tax.”
At the time of the original agreement 10 years ago, the PUD included a clause that Andrew Wommack Ministries would use outside, for-profit developers to build student housing, said organization spokeswoman Eileen Quinn.
The project would have been privatized through a lease arrangement or other type of arrangement so that it could be separately taxed, the 2012 agreement said.
“Despite the ministry’s best efforts to implement that concept, it proved to be unworkable,” Quinn said in an email.
The new application states that the ministry believes that the agreement was made in error in 2012, Lawson said, and cites several reasons it is illegal.
Wommack argues that as a religious organization, its tax-exempt status should be upheld with the dormitory project and that consent to the condition was given by the construction supervisor at the time but is "invalid and unenforceable," the new application states.
As a 501c(3) nonprofit, the ministry, which includes Charis Bible College, is a constitutionally tax-exempt entity under state and federal laws.
In its request to amend, “The ministry filed an application with extensive factual and legal support,” Quinn said.
Among the arguments is that "partnering with a for-profit entity would endanger Andrew Wommack Ministries Inc.'s tax exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service Code," according to the current application.
Also, the ministry cited that “the privatized model they were looking at in 2012 doesn’t work financially, given the economy and other factors,” Lawson said.
The request argues that a decade ago, the city's planning director at the time estimated direct taxation of student housing to generate $3.48 million in tax revenue over 11 years, or $316,364 per year.
Economic projections Wommack presented in November at a community open house show the ministry and its Christian college will employ 1,453 people locally by 2030 and generate $4.9 million in sales tax revenue in Woodland Park and $1.2 million in Teller County over the next decade — more than 70% more than had been forecasted without adding student housing taxation.
Wommack announced last November at the open that his ministry would seek city approval to build a six-building development with 66 units and 242 beds. Full-time on-campus enrollment last semester was 837 students, taking Christian ministry training courses.
In recent years, the area’s short supply of housing stock also has became a point of contention for those in the community who would rather not have a large-scale evangelical religious organization in their midst.
Wommack counters those attacks with data showing he’s spent $99 million on building campus facilities, such as classrooms, an auditorium, office space and a covered parking garage with 1,100 spaces. He expects to spend another $10 million to $12 million on construction annually through 2030, building dorms for up to 1,200 students.
Andrew Wommack Ministries is “operating in good faith with Woodland Park officials and hopes to arrive at a resolution that is favorable for both organizations,” Quinn said of the tax dispute.
City leaders are open to a mutually acceptable agreement, Lawson said: “The city is certainly willing to hear that and have a conversation about that.”
Staff is reviewing the application, Lawson said, and will issue recommendations to the city’s Planning Commission. The earliest the commission will hear the organization’s request is late April or May, Lawson said.
The application also needs approval from Woodland Park City Council, which in last week’s municipal election retained its seated mayor and two incumbents and gained two new members who are unaffiliated with Wommack’s ministry, unlike some of the other candidates.
Lawson expects City Council won’t hear the proposal until June or July. Public comment will be accepted at meetings, officials said.
Construction cannot begin until the application is resolved, Lawson said. If work were to start, it would fall under the 2012 expectation that the new development would be subject to property taxation.
Mark Sumner, who has lived near the Bible college for 14 years, remembers when the initial deal happened.
“If they made a commitment, they ought to stick by it,” he said. “They use considerable services in the city, and they’ve always said their students buy things in town like groceries, but whether the dorms are taxable shouldn’t have an effect on whether they pay sales taxes in Woodland Park.”