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martes, 14 de agosto de 2012

Jehovah's Witnesses appeal to Hamilton County


CINCINNATI - About a dozen people stood and raised their right hands to swear to tell the truth in the Hamilton County Commissioner's meeting room Wednesday.

The commissioners turned a scheduled public hearing into a kind of court proceeding.

At legal issue is whether Harrison and Harrison Township can stop the Jehovah's Witnesses from building a meeting hall on land specifically zoned for light industry.

In 2004, the township and the city of Harrison created a Joint Economic Development District, (JEDD). In essence, it allowed them to join forces to make a tract of land on Simonson Road attractive to new industrial business.

They're relying on the taxes from those industrial jobs to benefit the community.

For a small township, not much money coming in," said Harrison Twp. trustee Tom Losekamp. "This is just a way to keep the survival of Harrison Township."

But then, the Jehovah's Witnesses saw the property and wanted to buy it. Religious organizations have tax-exempt status, thus impinging plans to bring in tax revenue from the plot.

Ken Churnish admitted something that made matters worse from the township's perspective.

"The actual employees for this facility don't exist," he said during the hearing. "They're volunteers."

Township legal counsel Tom Keating made his point that this isn't about religious bigotry.

"They are very welcome to come to Harrison Township," he said,  "but they can't come to this (zoned) area."

However, church members say because regular meetings are required of all congregants, the meeting hall will bring in thousands of people and millions of dollars to area businesses.

"We really believe we're bringing a positive and advantageous effect to the neighbors," said church volunteer Mark Lahfdany.

He helps with building assembly halls across the country for the church.

The commissioners are unlikely to make a decision on this dicey situation anytime soon.

They have been advised by assistant prosecutor Bob Johnstone not to talk publicly about it, and board president Greg Hartmann didn't even want to set a date to discuss it.

Until they do, both sides will be left hanging. 


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