MUSCATINE, Iowa — A missing mailbox and a lack of communication.
It was a combination of these two things that eventually led to a tax sale on a Muscatine church, and then to more than a dozen representatives of two different churches filling the chamber of the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors Monday morning.
The representatives of Iglesia Emanuel Independiete, also known as Iglesia Emanuel AIC Church, 1112 Fillmore St., were at the board's regular Monday morning meeting to discuss their problems with the board. The church's attorney, Steve Kundel, was also present. Church officials contend that the county assessors office lost touch with the church in 2009 and mistakenly placed it on the tax rolls, thinking the church had gone inactive, even though it was still in operation as a church throughout that time and hosting regular services. Although the church is in the city limits, the county assessor's office has the responsibility of determining whether a property is eligible for tax-exempt status.
"It's a very unusual situation, one I've never run into," Kundel said as he addressed the board.
County Assessor Dale McCrea and other staff confirmed to the board that the county had tried to contact the church, but had received no response by mail.
"I'm having trouble understanding why no one checked the mailbox," Supervisor Scott Sauer said.
In response, Robert Garcia, the pastor of Iglesia Emanuel, told the board that there was no longer a mailbox at the church due to vandalism there. Supervisor Kas Kelly advised him to let county offices know where to mail correspondence to the church.
As a result of this confusion, however, the parcels of property owned by the church were placed back on the tax rolls around 2009. The property was then taxed, and when the taxes went unpaid, they were put up at tax sales. The church was not aware of the situation until recently.
While the county owns the tax deed of one of two parcels of the church's property, the tax deed for the second parcel was purchased by Oak Helm Partners, an investment group from Davenport. The church building is split across both parcels — Oak Helm has ownership of half the building, but not the one with a main door on it.
"I don't know how that services anyone," said Board Chair Bob Howard.
In a letter to the board, County Attorney Alan Ostergren said the county could not do anything about the Oak Helm sale because it had already occurred. Kundel said he planned to discuss the matter with Oak Helm to see if the investment group and the church can come to a resolution. No one from Oak Helm was present at the Monday meeting.
In addition, also present were members of the El Balsamo church of Muscatine, which has been renting space at Iglesia Emanuel from that church for their own services. Alex Huesca, the pastor of that church, and other church members expressed interest in trying to find out who they should be paying rent to, whether that should be Iglesia Emanuel or Oak Helm.
Kundel said that since Iglesia Emanuel still has possession of the building, they would still be considered the landlords for the property. However, in response to further questions from the El Balsamo members, McCrea said that if El Balsamo was being charged "market-value" rent for using the property for their meetings, the property could be considered a commercial enterprise and thus taxable.
However, the board decided to delay any action on the matter until receiving further information and research from county staff on this issue. Howard also urged all parties involved to remain in communication with each other.
The board received an update from County Engineer Keith White regarding flooding along the Cedar River in Muscatine County. White said the flooding crested at 17.88 feet last week, nine inches over the 1993 record, making it the second-highest crest on record.
White said there is some damage to roadways along the Cedar River area, including some shoulder washing on County Road G28 and some by the Iron City levee area in central Muscatine County. White said the county would have to wait until flood waters go down further to assess the full damage, and would be on the lookout if waters rose again. However, he said that Pettibone Avenue near Monsanto in south Muscatine was the only county road currently closed due to flooding.
In other business
- The board accepted the reports from the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office for Civil Department fees collected worth $27,875.17; the Muscatine County Treasurer’s Office report of fees collected worth $135,468.49; and the Muscatine County Auditor’s Office report of fees collected worth $1,795.
All of these were collected in the final quarter of the 2013-14 fiscal year. The vote was unanimous, with Supervisor Tom Furlong absent from Monday's meeting.