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'Taxing and taking': Church foreclosures paused in Milwaukee after pastors demand moratorium

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Posted at 9:31 PM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 15:26:48-05

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee is pausing any foreclosure involving a church while seeking clarification after a group of pastors demanded a moratorium on taxing and taking tax exempt properties, officials say.

Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer and City Treasurer Spencer Coggs announced Monday they are seeking clarification about churches that have lost their exemption from property taxes for church-owned property or had parts of their property taxed even though it was being used for church purposes, according to a news release.

"The churches deserve fairness and the City Attorney and I want to ensure that the tax exemption process is fair to everyone," Coggs said.

"In the interim, the City Treasurer and I have agreed that no foreclosure proceedings will be initiated against church-owned property until we have clarification on this important issue for churches and our City," Spencer said.

A group of Milwaukee Pastors held a press conference with Rev. Jesse Jackson on Nov. 30 where they demanded a moratorium on taxing and taking tax exempt properties, according to officials. It was followed by a meeting with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who responded with a letter to Spencer raising several questions, a news release said.

"I agree wholeheartedly that a tax-exempt church should not be taxed, and that Stat law allows for tax exemptions for qualifying church property," Barrett said in the letter dated Dec. 1.

The Pastors then expressed further concerns that the city was "taxing and taking" their properties during the Finance and Personnel Committee on Dec. 8. According to a news release, Pastor Stephen Tipton of El Bethel Church of God in Christ said one of his tax exempt properties was taxed and then acquired by the city for failure to pay taxes.

Spencer responded to Barrett's request on Dec. 14 and said the Common Council has the authority to cancel or refund taxes that were assessed against a church property that was exempt from taxation when the taxes were assessed.

Spencer and Coggs will pause any foreclosure involving a church for a reasonable period of time while seeking clarification and while investigating the matter, officials say.

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