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Church owes about $2,000 in back taxes for O’Donnell’s residence

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, at 5:29 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, at 7:16 p.m.

The church that owns City Council member Michael O’Donnell’s south Wichita home owes Sedgwick County a little more than $2,000 in back property taxes, county and church officials said Wednesday.

Sedgwick County Appraiser Mike Borchard said Grace Baptist Church owes $2,193.81 in 2010 and 2011 back taxes for the house at 1435 W. Haskell occupied by O’Donnell, the District 4 council member and candidate for the Kansas Senate. The statute of limitations on such back taxes is two years, he said.

The house is taxable for 2012, but because levies aren’t set, an exact figure isn’t known, Borchard said. However, with levies basically flat, the church likely faces a total bill for current and back taxes in excess of $3,000.

O’Donnell’s residence at 1435 W. Haskell in south Wichita, which has been off the tax rolls since at least 2002 as a Grace Baptist Church parsonage, is subject to property taxes because it is not being used as a church parsonage, appraisers’ officials ruled in September.

However, church pastor Michael O’Donnell, the council member’s father, said in September that the church intends to refile a tax exemption request to the Kansas State Board of Tax Appeals, essentially appealing the appraiser’s ruling.

“Obviously, we don’t have that type of money laying around, but we’ll make it work,” the elder O’Donnell said.

The tax bill won’t be paid until the appeal is complete, the pastor said.

The centerpiece of the dispute is the younger O’Donnell’s agreement with the church to live at the Haskell address. In August, the council member told an Eagle reporter he had paid rent for the house since 2008 or 2009, when his original deal to live there rent-free in exchange for work at the church as a janitor ended.

In September, the younger O’Donnell recanted that and told The Eagle he continues to work for the church — including building work and facilities and grounds maintenance — and has never paid rent on the facility. O’Donnell contended the monthly payments he made to the church were gifts, not rent.

The tax status of the council member’s residence was raised in August by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, which wrote Borchard in August asking for an investigation.

O’Donnell is running for the state Senate seat against Democrat Tim Snow and Libertarian Dave Thomas after defeating longtime incumbent Republican Jean Schodorf in the August primary.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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