City demands East End church pay delinquent taxes

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/26/2019, 6 a.m.
Nearly 30 years ago, Mount Olivet Church went on a buying spree and acquired 12 properties adjacent to the church ...
Looking toward Mount Olivet Church from 26th and R streets, the expansive lawn encompasses the tax-delinquent properties for which more than $72,000 is owed. Photo by Sandra Sellars

Nearly 30 years ago, Mount Olivet Church went on a buying spree and acquired 12 properties adjacent to the church in the 1200 block of North 25th Street in the East End.

Now those parcels plus one more that the church acquired later and cleared of decaying buildings could wind up on the auction block, enabling City Hall to collect $72,420 in property taxes that have gone unpaid for at least 12 years.

The idea that the city can collect taxes from a religious body seems to flout the constitutional barrier between church and state.

However, it turns out that all church property is not exempt from real estate and personal property taxes under Virginia law, and this property represents a prime example of religiously owned land that can be taxed, according City Attorney Allen L. Jackson.

Mr. Jackson noted that the state Constitution spells out what is exempt from taxation — real estate and personal property owned by religious bodies that is “exclusively occupied or used … for religious worship or for the residences of their ministers.”

“In this case,” Mr. Jackson continued, “the City Assessor treats the property at 1223 N. 25th St., where the church (sanctuary) is located, as exempt.” That also includes the parking area behind the church.

However, Mr. Jackson stated that even though “the adjoining vacant land may in fact be used in whole or in part for church purposes, it is not used ‘for religious worship’ and so is not treated as exempt.”

Bishop Darryl F. Husband, who reorganized the church so that it is now nondenominational and no longer Baptist affiliated, has not responded to a request for comment.

According to a legal notice the City Attorney’s Office published in the July 18-20 edition of the Richmond Free Press, the church has until Sept. 12 to respond with payment of the overdue taxes. Otherwise, the Richmond Circuit Court could allow the city to move ahead with the sale of the property.

The taxes on 12 properties held in the church’s name have been unpaid since 2007 and also include $5,112.50 in real estate taxes due for the years 1999 to 2005 before Mount Olivet Baptist acquired the parcel at 2506 R St., the city’s filings in Richmond Circuit Court state.

The filings, first submitted in February, spell out the addresses and taxes due for each parcel held in the name of Mount Olivet Baptist or a trustee of the church: 1207 N. 25th St., $3,041.32; 1209 N. 25th St., $5,756.57; 1211 N. 25th St., $5,810.72; 1215 N. 25th St., $6,277.39; and 1219½ N. 25th St., $8,068.01.

Also, 1200 N. 26th St., $3,927.91; 1202 N. 26th St., $4,020.44; 1206 N. 26th St., $4,020.44; 1208 N. 26th St., $4,034.15; 1210 N. 26th St., $5,992.36; 1212 N. 26th St., $8,370.48; 1220 N. 26th St., $7,987.80; and the property on R Street.

The list does not include 1217 N. 25th St., which also is tax delinquent. A city filing on that property lists the ownership as “parties unknown.”