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'Stop Tax & Take' campaign, launched by Milwaukee pastors, demands moratorium on taxes by the city

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Milwaukee area churches are demanding an immediate moratorium on what they say are unfair efforts by the city to tax churches under threat of foreclosure.

Dozens of Milwaukee faith leaders, joined by those from Racine and Chicago, gathered in City Hall’s rotunda for a press conference Tuesday.

Pastors said they are united in the demand for a moratorium.

Attendees joined in a chant saying: “Stop the tax & take.”

Bishop Osie Tatum, Jr. is the senior pastor of Mason Temple Church of God in Christ on North 35th Street. He gave a personal account of Milwaukee’s attempts to tax his church.

Tatum said the city taxed the church when it was established nearly 16 years ago. He said it happened again this past year.

"They taxed Mason Temple over $50,000 at one time, and we paid it! I don’t know where the money came from, but we walk by faith and not by sight," said Tatum.

Tatum said the churches want their money back.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, churches that meet the 501(c)(3) requirements are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of exempt status from the IRS.

To meet the 501(c)(3) requirements, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for purposes like charity, religion, education and science.

Religious institutions are tax exempt under Wisconsin law, too. Steve Miner with the Milwaukee Assessor's Office said churches shouldn't be taxed if they fill out the proper paperwork and use their property for tax-exempt purposes.

Miner said there can be a lot of nuances, for example, if property owners have delinquent charges, they may end up with a tax bill. He explained how his office handles property exemptions.

"Once an exemption is granted, the exemption remains until either the ownership changes or the use changes. That’s what determines if the exemption is granted in the first place," Miner said. "Moving forward, after the exemption has been granted, there is a requirement that the property owners who are exempt continue to update the city to let them know how the properties are being used."

Miner said he understands the churches’ concerns about the taxes and agrees with faith leaders that if something is wrong, the city will address it. But he added that the city is just following what’s set forth in the state statutes.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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