Milwaukee church tax: Rev. Jesse Jackson, church groups demand moratorium

Rev. Jesse Jackson backs Milwaukee pastors in a fight with the city. 

"We want our money back. Stop tax and take," Jackson said leading a call and response with others rallying at City Hall.

Some pastors said the city is taxing some of them and then later taking their buildings. Jackson urged a moratorium.

"That's not the city's money, that's God's money," said Pastor Steven Tipton.

Tipton leads El Bethel Church of God in Christ on Good Hope Road in Milwaukee. That church owns another property at 15th and Ring. The second location had unpaid taxes and went into foreclosure. The city acquired it in March.

"I had to come out and pay over $16,000, just to get my church back that was fully paid for," Tipton said in an interview with FOX6. "Because the city, during the pandemic came in, took our name off the title. went to court, took our name off the title."

The problem? In order to gain and maintain their tax-exempt status, the church leadership have to fill out a form every two years – attesting they are a church. Without submitting the form, or for other reasons, the city can add them to the property tax rolls.

"As our school was in transition, the city accessor found another way to tax the parish. and then levied taxes on the school building," said Fr. Gregory Greiten, St. Bernadette Parish. "In 2019, we got a tax bill for $22,000. Then in 2020, we got another tax bill for $20,600."

When taxes are not paid, the city can acquire the church.

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Tipton said it is time for the form to go away.

"Every two years the church has to prove that it is a church, that it's worshipping, that should not be the case," Tipton said. "We know about the form, we want the form to be eradicated. We want to be done with the form. Once we fill it out once, we want it to be done, on file."

Mayor Tom Barrett met with Rev. Jackson. He said the city is following state law.

"How can we change the law so that organizations that are truly tax-exempt but have not filed the necessary paperwork, that they do not lose their tax-exempt status?" Barrett said. "And that, we believe at the city level, may involve a change with state law."

The mayor agreed to contact the city attorney to see if the mayor can unilaterally issue a moratorium on the city taking churches in foreclosure if they have not filed the right form.

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"I am satisfied Mayor Barrett will do what he says he'll do. I have high regard for him," Rev. Jackson said.

FOX6 News has asked the city for the numbers of churches which have faced taxes and foreclosures. While we wait for that information, Milwaukee Assessment Commissioner Steve Miner said two church properties were foreclosed in 2020 – but both former owners now have the properties back.

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