HARDING — A conservative pastor who is running for the republican nomination to challenge Gov. Phil Murphy has not had to pay property taxes since his church bought out his sprawling Morris County property nearly four years ago.

The five-bedroom, seven-bathroom property in the New Vernon section of the township last sold for $1.65 million in August 2017 to City Baptist Church by Phil and Jennifer Rizzo, who had purchased the home on 6 acres of land for $100,000 less two years earlier.

News of the deal was highlighted this week by a report in Politico New Jersey,

Property records show an assessment for $1.8 million, done after renovations to the home, once it became church-owned.

“Builder is putting final touches on this stunning 5 bedroom home, all with private en suite baths. The home has been totally renovated top to bottom,” a listing on Zillow said, when the home briefly was put on the market in September 2020 at an asking price of $2.65 million.

It was removed from the market two months later.

Rizzo started City Baptist Church in 2012 out of a storefront in Hoboken. By 2017, it was a congregation of about 60 people, according to Hudson Reporter. The church now has a North Bergen location at 8222 John F. Kennedy Blvd.

Rizzo is considered a long-shot at wresting the Republican nomination from former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, who already has shored up significant support among party leaders.

“As a third-generation real estate developer and somebody who owns a small business — I know plenty about paying taxes,” Rizzo said during an interview on March 6 at the Hispanic Republicans of North Jersey Hudson County Lincoln Dinner in Jersey City. The YouTube host had asked him to respond to the idea that he can't relate to New Jerseyans, dealing with high property taxes.

“My church is a small church, they don’t pay me a very big salary,” he continued.

Rizzo said the church buying his home, which makes it a parsonage under tax code, was “done completely by the book.”

Before the Morris County property became tax exempt, annual property taxes were last assessed at $15,388 for 2018.

Under the current tax code, parsonage is a non-taxable housing allowance that is equal to the lower of either an individual’s actual housing expenses or 2) the fair market value of such housing, as outlined in section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code, and cited by the AVI CHAI Foundation.

Parsonages aren't the only way property owners in New Jersey avoid taxes. The most common method is to turn part of their land into a farm, sometimes by selling Christmas trees. 

Ciattarelli pays almost $18,000 for his house on an acre in Hillsborough. Murphy, meanwhile, pays nearly $215,000 in taxes on the mansion and 6-acre compound along the Navesink River in Middletown. 

Rizzo's property includes a new heated pool and a finished, two-car garage with large windows overlooking the private pond.

Among amenities of the 6,725 square foot home are high-end kitchen appliances that include two Sub-Zero refrigerators, four freezers, a Viking stove and Miele dishwasher.

There also is a pool level kitchenette, three fireplaces, a basement game room and gym, among the living spaces— some of which is seen in the real estate photos below.

Church-owned, $1.6M digs in Morris County

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