Judge: Davenport church must pay tens of thousands in property taxes after mix-up – Quad City Times


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Judge: Davenport church must pay tens of thousands in property taxes after mix-up

A northwest Davenport church embroiled in a years-long property tax dispute must pay tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, a Scott County District Court judge recently ruled.

Mt. Sinai Christian Fellowship Church of God in Christ faced more than $100,000 in delinquent taxes after its 2015 purchase of its 4706 Northwest Boulevard church led to a mix-up in its tax-exempt status. The church, which was unaware that it needed to re-file for tax-exempt status on its new location, ended up being charged property taxes for three years before discovering the situation.

Church leaders have contended they were never notified of the need to re-file for an exemption, in part because notices were sent to a former address due to a clerical error, and the first indication the church was being charged property taxes came in a delinquent tax notice.

A courtesy notice informing the church of the need to file a request for tax-exemption, as well as the tax delinquency notices, were sent to an address for property the church also owned until 2018, according to court records.

The church repeatedly requested a tax abatement for the entire tax bill. But county officials have said state law prohibits them from abating taxes retroactively and for years in which a property owner does not timely file for a property tax exemption.

Mt. Sinai, though, did receive a partial $17,119 tax abatement from the Scott County Board of Supervisors in 2019. Supervisors abated the second installment of the church's 2018 taxes after it filed for its tax exemption in May of that year. County officials said the abatement was in recognition that the church timely filed for an exemption. But, neither the first installment of 2018 taxes or the 2016 and 2017 property taxes could be abated because there was not a tax exemption filing in those years, county officials argued.

"It’s an unfortunate situation and the board of supervisors is very sympathetic to the church, but the fact of the matter is they can only do what the law allows," Assistant Scott County Attorney Robert Cusack said. "To abate the taxes would be illegal.”

The church filed a petition in Scott County District Court last fall requesting a court order to direct the board of supervisors and county treasurer to abate the first half of 2018 taxes owed and reimburse the church for 2016 and 2017 taxes.

Mt. Sinai, in court filings, argued because the church purchased the property from a different congregation that received tax-exempt status for its religious and charitable use of the property, and Mt. Sinai used the property for the same purpose, the tax-exempt status continues, regardless of any change in ownership. And that as such the taxes were illegally assessed.

The church, too, argued county officials have discretion in choosing whether to abate or reimburse property taxes, and did so for a similarly-situated church building in the past. That county officials would not do so for a majority-minority congregation, violated equal protection clauses under the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

A Scott County District Court judge, however, noted the decision to reimburse or abate another church's property taxes was made by a now-deceased former Scott County treasurer without consulting current county officer holders.

Additionally, District Court Judge Joel W. Barrows ruled state law "clearly shows that the tax exemption belongs to the property owner and not the property itself." Barrows, too, wrote Iowa code does not give county officials discretion to abate or reimburse several years of back taxes as the church requested.

Church Pastor Frank Livingston could not be reached for comment Friday. A number listed for the church rang unanswered with no option to leave a message. An attorney representing the church did not return a message seeking comment Friday afternoon.

The church still owes $21,998 in delinquent taxes, according to the Scott County Treasurer's Office.

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