A local Christian organization could face foreclosure at the end of March 2022 due to taxes accrued in 2019 when the organization was denied tax exemption by the city of Hillsdale.
Rev. Cindy Eckhardt, president and founder of One Step Ministries, said that while the organization is a church, it does not hold traditional Sunday services and has focused on community outreach for years.
According to Eckhardt, the group has helped provide transitional housing for the homeless, offered soup dinners at a local church, and reached thousands of students through school assemblies. The organization opened a youth center in 2009, Eckhardt said.
The city of Hillsdale audited the property’s tax exemption in fall of 2018, according to City Assessor Kim Thomas.
Thomas said the city sent out a questionnaire in October 2018 requesting documentation to confirm the organization’s tax-exempt status and demonstrate that their building was being used for a tax-exempt purpose.
Thomas said the most recent information her office had on file for the property was from the prior owner.
When Thomas did not receive the requested information by the end of the year, she denied the ministry tax exemption for 2019.
“At the time we were at the building, there was no indication of what it was being used for,” Thomas said. “There were no posted meeting schedules or worship schedules or anything to indicate if it was or was not still being used for a tax-exempt purpose.”
Eckhardt said she was unaware of the situation until she received a 2019 tax bill.
“We were legal before, legal during, and legal now. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and a church,” Eckhardt said.
Thomas said she received the requested documentation in February of this year and granted One Step Ministries tax exemption for 2021. At a hearing in July, the city Board of Review approved One Step Ministries’ exemption for 2020.
The Board of Review did not have the authority to go back farther than the prior year, which left the 2019 taxes delinquent.
“If they’re not paid by March 31, 2022, then they become county property and are foreclosed on,” Hillsdale County Treasurer Stephenie Kyser said.
Daren Wiseley, One Step Ministries’ attorney, said he is currently preparing to file an appeal with the Michigan Tax Tribunal.
“I think it’s open and shut, just as long as we get the evidence in front of them and show them the timeline,” he said.