March 24 2010 12:00 AM

Local pastor, city official had ongoing delinquent taxes




Bishop David Maxwell, the city of Lansing’s director of Community and Faith Based Initiatives, was delinquent on $6,520 in property taxes and late fees for his home for the last two years before his church paid the taxes Monday.

Records also show the taxes on the property were paid at least two years late every year from 2001 through 2008. In one case, they were paid three years late.

In an interview last week, Maxwell said that tax payments on the house at 4320 Stillwell Ave. were part of his contract as pastor of Eliezer Temple Church. Ownership of the house was transferred to the church last Wednesday, March 17.

Under state law, parsonages are exempt from property tax. Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing said, however, that the parsonage would not become exempt until 2011 because the home’s taxable value for 2010 taxes was calculated on Dec. 31, 2009.

Maxwell said Tuesday that the $6,520 tax payment was made by his church. He pledged that the church would pay the 2010 taxes on time.

Maxwell said that the transfer should have been done a long time ago. He said that the transfer “had nothing to do” with the fact that news broke last Wednesday that Charles Moore, the treasurer of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s gubernatorial campaign, owes $91,000 in property taxes. Moore has reportedly stepped down, but the state Secretary of State’s office has not received the resignation.

“Before Wednesday, it was the church’s contractual responsibility (to pay the taxes), but the legal responsibility was probably mine,” he said. “The motive (for the transfer) was that it was a business decision.”

Maxwell became head of the Office of Community and Faith Based Initiatives in 2006 after an executive order by Bernero that created the office. Maxwell said that he is a parttime contract employee of the city and paid around $25,000 per year. He said that he is required to work 25 hours per week for the city, which works out to about $20 per Maxwell hour.

According to Ingham County records, Maxwell took out a mortgage on the property in 1993, and first bought the home on a land contract in 1983.

“Given the tax problems, I have been trying to get the church listed as a parsonage,” Maxwell said.

Reached by phone Friday, Eliezer’s assistant pastor, Benjamin Fomby, said that the church knew about the transfer of ownership of 4320 Stillwell.

According to records, $2,603.50 in 2007 taxes on 4320 Stillwell went unpaid until March 4, 2010; $2516.41 in 2006 taxes went unpaid until March 31, 2009; $2,403.33 in 2008 taxes until March 31, 2008; $2,351.95 in 2005 taxes until March 31, 2007; $2,203.35 in 2003 taxes until March 21 2006; and $2,562.90 in 2002 and 2001 taxes until March 31, 2005.

March 31 three years from the date taxes are due is typically the last day property owners have to pay before tax foreclosure occurs. Each year around the beginning of March, unpaid property taxes are passed to Ingham County for collection; the county, in turn, borrows money to reimburse municipalities for unpaid taxes. Two years later, taxes that are still unpaid could result in tax foreclosure — for example, a property that still owes 2007 property taxes, which would have been turned over to the county at the beginning of March in 2008, would face tax foreclosure on March 31.

Maxwell is also one of the founding members of the Clergy Forum, a group of local black religious leaders that “seeks to empower the disenfranchised and at-risk population groups that happen to intersect with our congregations.” Last October, Maxwell and 23 other pastors, including some from the Clergy Forum, endorsed Bernero. Maxwell denied that he does political work as a city employee, but did say that the Clergy Forum does endorse — in 2005, it endorsed Bernero.

“I do no political work for the mayor in that sense, in trying to get people to endorse him,” Maxwell said.

As head of the Office of Community and Faith Based Initiatives, Maxwell said he has helped create the Church of Greater Lansing, which is a collection of 40 local churches that has raised over $100,000 each year of its existence, and helped 5,000 families with emergency food relief. He said he also acts as a liaison between the faith community and Bernero’s office and provides information about federal and state grants to religious groups.